Skip to main content

The National Portrait Gallery will be open Wednesdays through Sundays 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m. beginning Sept. 18 at Eighth and G streets N.W. Refer to Visit for the latest visitor safety guidelines, including a new requirement for free timed-entry passes for all ages.

James Smithson

James Smithson
Usage Conditions Apply
Henri-Joseph Johns, 1761 - 1843
James Smithson, c. 1765 - 1829
Gouache on ivory
Other (Accurate): 7.6 x 7cm (3 x 2 3/4")
Frame (with hanging hook): 13.8 x 11.7cm (5 7/16 x 4 5/8")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from the National Museum of American History Conserved with funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee
Restrictions & Rights
Usage conditions apply
Object number
Exhibition Label
Probably born in France
Englishman James Smithson commissioned this forthright portrait from a Belgian artist working in present-day Aachen, possibly as a gift for a family member. Always painfully aware of his uncertain status as an illegitimate child of the Duke of Northumberland, he focused on his scientific publishing in chemistry and mineralogy. In 1826 he penned his most unusual will, providing for the establishment of the “Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.”
M. de la Batut, of Belz, France, “half-brother of the nephew of James Smithson,” offering it for sale; purchased by Smithsonian; transferred to NPG 1985
Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution…for the Year 1877 [publ. 1878], p.9.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery