About This Artwork

Ralph Earl
American, 1751–1801

Noah Smith, 1798

Oil on canvas
163.2 x 107.3 cm (64 1/4 x 42 1/4 in.)
Signed, lower left: "R. Earl / Pinxt / 1798"

Goodman Fund, 1956.126

Ralph Earl garnered portrait commissions primarily from wealthy rural landowners in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. A loyalist, Earl fled America for England during the Revolutionary War, developing his portrait style, in turn, by studying with Benjamin West (an American painter in London) and through contact with English artists. Returning in 1785, Earl painted this portrait of Noah Smith late in his career, having melded his British training with a simpler, linear style that appealed to his clients of the rural gentry. In this work, Smith, chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court, sits assuredly before the viewer; the map at hand, pastoral view at left, and volumes of books behind him signal the sitter’s prominent position as a man of affairs in the young nation.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Allentown Art Museum, Penn., The World of Benjamin West, May 1–July 31, 1962, cat. 71.

Publication History

Franklin Bowditch Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College (New York, Holt, 1885).

Daniel Catton Rich, “The Portraits of Ralph Earl,” International Studio 96, 4 (Aug. 1930), pp. 36–39.

New Jersey Historical Records Survey Project, American Portrait Inventory, 1440 Early American Portrait Artists (Historical Records Survey, 1940), p. 86.

John Spargo, The Rise and Progress of Freemasonry in Vermont (Burlington, Vermont, privately printed, 1944).

From Colony to Nation (Art Institute of Chicago, 1949).

Samuel M. Green, “Uncovering the Connecticut School,” Art News 51, 10 (Jan. 1953), p. 38.

Lloyd Goodrich, “Ralph Earl’s Debt to Gainsborough and Other English Portraitists,” Antiques 78 (Nov. 1960), pp. 464-65.

Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago, A Catalogue of the Picture Collection (Art Institute of Chicago, 1961), p. 156.

Laurence B. Goodrich, Ralph Earl, Recorder for an Era (State University of New York, 1967).

David A. Hanks, “American Paintings at The Art Institute of Chicago, Part 1: The Eighteenth Century,” Antiques 104 (Sept. 1973), p. 415.

Margaretta M. Lovell, “Reading Eighteenth-Century American Family Portraits: Social Images and Self–Images,” Winterthur Portfolio 22, 4 (Winter 1987), pp. 244-64.

Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser, Ralph Earl: The Face of the Young Republic, exh. cat., (Yale University Press, 1991), cat. 59.

John Caldwell and Oswaldo Roldriguez Roque, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vol. I: A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born by 1815 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994), p. 147 (ill.).

Judith A. Barter et al., American Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago: From Colonial Times to World War I (Art Institute of Chicago, 1998), pp. 108-10, no. 108.

Ownership History

Noah Smith, Bennington, Vermont, 1798; by descent to Eliza Smith, Huntington, Vergennes, Vermont, 1812. Ann Eliza Huntington, Vergennes, Vermont, by 1912; John Harrington, Vergennes, Vermont, from 1912; bequeathed to Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, from 1913; sold to The Art Institute of Chicago, 1956.

Interpretive Resources

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