John Richard Coke SMYTH (1808-82)

From the Coverdale Collection of Canadiana

Born in 1808, John Richard Coke Smyth was the only son of Richard Smyth and Elizabeth Coke (c.l777-c. 1851). More commonly known as Coke Smyth, with which name he signed his works, he has been mistakenly named Frederick Coke Smyth or Smith in some reference books. Smyth married Marion Hockett in about 1832 at Cripplegate Church. They had six children.

Smyth's passport, still in the family's possession, would suggest that he was a gentleman of means who travelled widely on the Continent, as did his contemporary, William Henry Bartlett. In 1835-6, Smyth visited Constantinople, apparently as an unpaid attache. His on-the-spot sketches were published in Illustrations of Constantinople made in the Years 1835-6 (London, 1837), which comprised 26 lithographic views arranged and drawn on stone by John Frederick Lewis (1805-76).

Subsequently he was engaged as drawing master to the household of John George Lambton (1792-1840), 1st Earl of Durham. It was in this capacity in April 1838 that Smyth accompanied Durham, newly appointed Governor to the Canadas, and his party on board HMS Hastings to Quebec. During Durham's brief tenure of office, which terminated with his resignation that October, he travelled extensively in Lower and Upper Canada. Thus there was ample opportunity for Smyth and his pupils. Lady Mary Louisa Lambton (later Lady Elgin, 1819-98) and Katherine Jane Ellice (    -1864), to sketch firsthand the Canadian scene at the time of the Mackenzie-Papineau Rebellions.  Several of these drawings provided the basis for the 23 lithographic views dedicated to the Earl of Durham in Sketches in the Canadas (London, c.1840) by Coke Smyth.

Smyth exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1842 and 1855 and also at the British Institution and Society of British Artists up to 1867. In 1842, Messrs. Paul and Dominic Colnaghi exhibited and later published Smyth's costume figures which were commissioned by Queen Victoria to illustrate a commemorative volume of the Queen's masked ball en-titled Souvenir of the Bal Costume (London, 1843). Several of the drawings used for the lithographic plates are in an album in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Smyth specialized in costume studies. He approached Colnaghi with a view to publication of an album entitled Prospectus & Specimen of a proposed work on the Costume of the principal Nations of Europe from the beginning of the 13th to the end of the 17th century. Smyth intended to etch the plates personally and provide accompanying text; however, it appears that the number of subscribers was insufficient to publish the work. Smyth is known to have experimented in lithography, and produced a self-portrait among his associates at drawing class. He also painted portraits of his family and made some fine architectural drawings. One of the latest known books to include his illustrations was Henry Beveridge's A Comprehensive History of India.(3 vols., London, 1871). Coke Smyth died in 1882.

His works can be seen in