Matthew Smith. His Life and Reputation
Artist(s): Matthew Smith
Author(s): Malcolm Yorke
Year published: 1997
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Publisher Location: London
Total Pages: 264
Illustrations: 70 illustrations with 50 in colour
Although he died more than forty years ago this is the first full-scale biography of Matthew Smith, one of the most original English figurative painters of the century. He was in his lifetime frequently, but mistakenly, seen as an English Fauve or as a disciple of Matisse, but in fact he evolved his own distinctive style independently from anything he had seen in English art schools or the French galleries.
Smith was the son of a rich and cultured Yorkshire manufacturer, but soon felt impelled to rebel against the Victorian taste of his father and his class. He failed to impress tutors at the Slade, went to France to see what the modern movements there had to offer, and then returned to mingle in the circles round Sickert and Fry. His grim experiences in World War 1 forced him to sort out his priorities both as a man and an artist. Eventually, a passionate love affair in middle age enabled him to establish his own uniquely turbulent style and subject matter of still-lifes, landscapes and uninhibited nudes. Augustus John and Epstein were close friends as were many other literary and artistic figures in Paris, Provence and London. He was shaken by personal tragedies, but well into old age he seemed able to attract the love of cultivated and attractive younger women.
There have been several retrospective exhibitions since his death in 1959, notably at the Royal Academy and twice at the Barbican. Dr Yorke’s detailed biography traces the life and reputation of this unassuming man who ‘spoke like an intelligent moth’ , but who produced pictures of such rich colour and extrovert handling that they have no parallels in the history of English painting.