About this artwork

This glass paste medallion by James Tassie is one of only few authentic portraits of the great political economist and author of ‘The Wealth of Nations’ (1776). One of the most famous Scots ever, Smith is the father of the economic principle of free enterprise. He is also the first Scotsman ever to appear on an English banknote. This very portrait was used on the £20 notes issued by the Bank of England in 2007. Another almost identical portrait of Smith by Tassie is also in the collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

James Tassie

James Tassie

Tassie was born in Pollokshaws, Glasgow. He trained first as a stone mason and then attended the Foulis Academy in Glasgow. Tassie moved to Dublin in 1763, where he learned how to make imitations of antique cameos. He invented a formula for a type of glass paste which he used for the rest of his life to make gems and portrait medallions. Tassie moved to London in 1766. His reproductions of antique gems were avidly collected by patrons as distinguished as Catherine the Great of Russia. He was also the leading portrait modeller in Britain, making around five hundred medallions of his contemporaries.