British artist George Smith brought notoriety not only to his hometown of Chichester, but also to the merit of British landscape painting in the 18th century.
The Smith family’s blood ran thick with an artistic streak. George was not the only member to find a penchant for painting, his brothers were also keen artists. Older brother William (1707-1764) became Smith’s tutor when the younger journeyed to study under his brother in London. He had initially been training with his uncle in the family trade of coopering, the making of wooden barrels. However, finding this unappealing, Smith turned to his brother. He followed him from London to Gloucester, working as a portrait painter.
However, it was not until he returned to Chichester that he began to see success with his art. Smith’s landscapes were noticed by the Duke of Richmond who, evidently pleased, granted patronage to Smith, enabling him to pursue landscape painting further. In doing so, he was enabling one of the most skilful hands in British landscape painting of the 18th century.
Smith’s works have a gorgeously idealised style much in tune to the fashion of the time. He presents scenery of the Sussex countryside with a haze of harmony. Every living thing has its own place and is content to share it with every other living thing. Even humans settle into his scenes with bonhomie, herding sheep and cattle, who are satisfied to be shepherded.
Smith draws much upon the idealised realism of Claude Lorrain (1600-1682), balancing the composition, balancing nature, giving each work a sense of classical harmony. Light is drawn from the background, the foreground awash with shadow, trees and leaves each individually defined by the glorious light behind. Quite often the sky is set in the transcendence of sunrise and sunset, affording Smith the chance to play with a glorious mix of colours. A wash of golden umbers and yoke-like ochres crown a multitude of greens with a misty light.
Smith worked out of his studio in Chichester for most of his life, which he shared with his younger brother John (1717-1764). The two brothers shared a close bond and would often collaborate on works together. Indeed, the two published a selection of engravings of their own works and copies of Dutch masters in an album.
Independently, Smith’s works were also engraved and printed by a number of prominent etcher-engravers, including William Woollett (1735-1785). It was these that helped his works reach a larger audience and which began to earn him, and his brothers, great acclaim as landscape painters. One contemporary would write: ‘the superiority of the Smiths as landscape painters is so incontestable visible to those who have the least judgement in painting, or in nature.’
Smith exhibited a considerable number of times in London, with both the Society of Arts and the Free Society of Artists, with whom he was a member. On three occasions his works were selected to win the premium prize for a landscape painting by the Society of Arts. His brothers would also win this award on separate occasions.
As well as painting, Smith also had a passion for poetry. He published a collection of poems, titled ‘Pastorals,’ in 1770. This work was subsequently republished in the early 19th century by his daughters. Smith himself said that although he ‘never made the art of writing my particular study,’ it was his paintings which induced in him a need to ‘study nature very attentively.’ The meticulous detail and passion he had for landscape painting opened his eyes also to the vistas and valleys of writing.
George Smith and his brothers William and John did much to further the cause of British landscape painting in the 18th century when so often it was being outsourced to artists from abroad. It seems deserving that their hometown of Chichester should be noted for its impact, and that they, too, should be recognised in the art world.
Born in Chichester, Britain.
Exhibited with the Society of Artists. Awarded the premium award for landscape painting from the Society of Arts.
Became a member of the Free Society of Artists. Awarded the premium award for landscape painting from the Society of Arts.
Awarded the premium award for landscape painting from the Society of Arts.
Exhibited at the Royal Academy.
Died in Chichester, Britain. Buried in St Pancras Church graveyard, Chichester.