Artist biography

English painter. He studied art at Manchester College of Technology (1901–5) and the Slade School of Fine Art in London (1905–8) without showing particular promise. He settled in Paris, beginning to build more ambitious compositions using related and contrasting colours. In canvases painted between 1914 and 1920, when he joined the London Group, he acknowledged the flatness of the picture surface with areas of strong unmodulated colour and emphatic design. In 1920 Smith applied dark saturated colour and an increasing fluidity of construction to a series of Cornish landscapes. Strongly Expressionist in character, these are the culmination of his early style.

An increasing self-confidence in the 1920s led to the evolution of Smith's mature style. In marked contrast to his former approach, he now expressed a passionately spontaneous and celebratory response to his subject through an alla prima technique that enabled him to work very fast.

Smith continued subsequently to work from traditional subjects, but with marked variations in his palette and use of paint. He spent the late 1920s and 1930s in France and produced many freely painted nudes, still-lifes, portraits and landscapes. After returning to London in 1940, he moved towards darker colorations and a more emphatic solidity of form. During the 1950s he produced his largest and most decorative canvases. The greater fluidity of Smith's later work brought him considerable success in regular exhibitions in London, and he was twice represented at the Venice Biennale (1938 and 1950). Smith was knighted in 1954.

P. Hendy: Matthew Smith (London, 1944)
J. Rothenstein: Modern English Painters (London, 1952, rev. 1984), i, pp. 228–44
Matthew Smith (exh. cat., London, Tate, 1953)
J. Rothenstein: Matthew Smith (London, 1962)
F. Halliday and J. Russell: Matthew Smith (London, 1962)
Matthew Smith (exh. cat., London, Barbican A.G., 1983)
Matthew Smith: Drawings and Watercolours (exh. cat., ed. S. R. Smith; London, Guildhall Lib., 1983)


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