Smart RSA RSW, John (1838-1899)

Smart RSA RSW, John (1838-1899)

John Smart RSA RSW was a Scottish painter of landscapes in oil and watercolour.

Smart adored his native land and sought to capture the sublimity of its dramatic peaks and rugged glens with vigorous brushwork. A passionate Scottish nationalist, he sought the views which best conveyed a sense of Scotland’s iconic spirit.

Early Years

Born in Edinburgh, his father worked as an engraver and would’ve taught young John the fundamentals of drawing. Before long, Smart had applied to the School of Manufacturers intending to also become an engraver but switched to painting when his true talent became apparent.

Training under Horatio McCulloch (1805-1867), one of the leading Scottish landscape painters, Smart honed his mastery while gaining insight into his tutor’s philosophies. McCulloch was a romantic, inspired by a Wordsworthian spirit, who produced vast panoramic Highland vistas with extensive depth and soul. The two became good friends and one can imagine them strolling through the wilderness while discussing the seasons.

Horatio McCulloch

Horatio McCulloch, John Smart's Tutor (1847)

Bold, Natural & Earthy

Smart’s lively brushwork seems to echo the conditions, it’s often bold, natural and earthy. He captures a sense of epic Scottish adventure and becomes a personification of the undulant scenery itself.

He painted at various locations but more so in the West Highlands - with its vast mountains and expansive lochs. Working predominantly from life, its numerous views are amplified by his robust handling. James Caw, an art critic, explained:

"If coarse in handling and wanting in subtlety of feeling, they are simple and effective in design, vivid in effect and powerful in execution, and breathe an ardent passion for the landscape of his native land."

It was this passion that underpinned his ultimate success and, before long, he was elected to the Royal Scottish Academy. Popular with the rising middle classes, he became an important contributor to the development of Scottish landscape painting.

A Gentler Side

But, aside from his rusticated views, it was a gentler endeavour that resulted in his greatest notoriety - golf. Smart was a keen golfer and produced numerous watercolours depicting various courses and greens. Twenty of these were produced as etchings by George Aikman and titled ‘A Round Of The Links: Views of the Golf Greens of Scotland’.

Today, Smart is represented in many public collections including the British Museum, National Trust for Scotland, Brodie Castle, Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture, Rozelle House Galleries, The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum, University of Edinburgh, and the Walker Art Gallery.


Born in Edinburgh to Robert Campbell Smart, an engraver, and Emily Margaret Morton.

Studied under Horatio McCulloch.


Elected an Associate member of the Royal Scottish Academy.


Founding member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour.


Elected a full member of the Royal Scottish Academy.


Produced various watercolours of golfing greens.


Publication of ‘A Round of the Links, Views of the Golf Greens of Scotland’. Etched plates after Smart’s watercolours.



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