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John Smith
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A talented English printmaker and successful publisher during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, John Smith is best known for his mezzotint portraits of the English aristocracy after paintings by Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723). Smith was born in Daventry, Northamptonshire, probably in 1652. He was apprenticed to a printer of calico and other cloth in London, where he met another future printmaker, Isaac Beckett (ca. 1653-1688). He learned the mezzotint technique from Beckett and the Dutch printmaker Jan van der Vaart (1653-1727), probably during 1681 and 1682. Smith’s first mezzotint print was published in 1683. He worked for five different publishers, producing portraits and other mezzotints on a variety of subjects, as well as two etchings. Smith began publishing prints himself in 1687. After Beckett’s death in 1688, Smith became the engraver for Kneller, eventually creating 113 plates after Kneller’s works, mostly portraits, Although there were occasional disagreements between the two, Smith’s collaboration with Kneller continued until the latter’s death in 1723. An astute businessman, Smith produced prints after his designs and those by other artists as well as Kneller, and after 1692 published all his prints himself. By controlling the printing and publication, Smith could assure the quality of his prints. Smith soon achieved an international reputation. Many of his clients must of have purchased a complete collection of his prints; at least five albums containing his substantially entire production survive. He preserved proof copies, and sold them at high prices. Smith made about 330 plates. London’s National Portrait Gallery has catalogued 281 portrait prints, available on its website ( His prints on other subjects were catalogued in the 19th century, but modern scholars believe that these catalogs did not properly distinguish between prints created by Smith and prints from plates made by other artists that he published. Smith acquired plates made by other engravers and published those works, sometimes after re-working and improving the plate. Smith made no plates after 1724, but continued his publishing business. His successful business allowed him to invest in government securities and property, and after his death in 1743 he bequeathed a substantial fortune to his children. (TNB 3/2013) Selected bibliography: Griffiths, Antony. ‘Smith, John (1652–1743)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, Jan 2008. National Portrait Gallery (London). “John Smith: Mezzotint printmaker.”