Birmingham born Thomas Capel Walton Smith created portraits of women with a strongly coloured, clear-cut coherency.
Smith painted in a style clearly influenced by Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau had grown popular from the late 19th century onwards when people began to reject the historicism so adored by the Victorians in favour of new means of artistic expression. Artists wanted to engage with their changing, modern world, creating new, complimentary styles of art.
Smith’s works are imbued with a sense of dynamism very much in the spirit of Art Nouveau. A portrait of a woman is depicted at an interesting angle, slightly lowered so that the woman seems to loom into the space of the canvas. The flowing lines of her fur coat and the helmet-like curve to her head evoke the fluidity of movement appreciated by Art Nouveau artists. Her eyes are hooded, her expression both alluring and yet intriguing. The viewer does not seem to be able to capture the mood behind her eyes. This, again, is reminiscent of more modernist approaches to art, in which psychological introspection became a key tenet.
In other portraits, too, Smith engages with this sense of a snapshot capturing a mere moment in these womens’ days. His use of watercolour soaks his canvases with a strong colourism which is also effective in his simplicity. Plain backgrounds of blue and yellow compliment his sitters, whilst also remaining modern. A portrait of a nurse is an interesting example of Smith combining the freshness of the modern style with a reflection upon the dark events of the First World War and the psychological trauma it brought. Her mouth is pursed, her eyes seem hundreds of miles away. Whilst her uniform is crisp, her skin unblemished, the viewer wonders what horrors this nurse has seen.
Unfortunately, very little else is known about Smith. It seems probable, however, that he would have studied art at the Birmingham School of Art. Founded in 1843, the school was intended to open up arts education to more people. Over the course of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th-Century, and Smith’s birth, it had become a respected institution.
It is a shame so very few examples of Smith’s works remain. There is also evidence to suggest Smith pursued a career in metal work and jewellery making, making it likely he gave up painting after the 1930s when his latest piece was produced. Nonetheless, his portraits offer a striking view of a few female faces of the early 20th-Century, executed in a modern, lively manner.
Born in Hay Mills, Birmingham.