Artist Biography

Russell Smith

(1812 - 1896)

Table of Contents

    Landscape painter inspired by the Hudson River School.

    By Anna J. Murphy

    Smith’s expertise in landscape painting grew out of his first-hand studies of Pennsylvanian nature.

    I. Biography

    Although he was born overseas, Smith went on to produce iconic images of Pennsylvania’s landscape inspired by the aesthetic of the Hudson River School. In 1812, Smith was born in Glasgow Scotland. He was brought to the United States in 1819 by his parents, who lived in western Pennsylvania for five years before settling in Pittsburgh. Here he studied art under James Reid Lambdin between 1829 and 1832. Aside from this training, Smith was a self-taught artist whose first jobs were in painting commercial signs and sets for the local dramatic society. This occupation proved to be natural for Smith, who was a professional scene painter by the age of twenty-one. He found considerable commercial success in painting these commissioned backgrounds for theatrical productions, but on top of that he produced many smaller-scale landscape paintings as well. These works were inspired by the same original studies that Smith used for his theatrical scenery, but were displayed in public exhibitions and bought by collectors, bringing Smith additional financial success. Smith traveled throughout Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New England to observe nature and collect sketches for later works. In both his stage scenery and landscape paintings, Smith had extraordinary talent in painting atmosphere, water, and other elements of nature. In 1858, Smith was honored with a commission by the Philadelphia Academy of Music to paint their scenery.

    In 1838, Smith married Mary Priscilla Wilson, who was also a painter. It was around this time that Russell shifted his primary focus from scenery to landscape painting. Mary Priscilla and Russell had two children, Mary and Xanthus, who turned out to be serious painters as well. Russell encouraged his children to practice painting when he took the whole family to Europe from 1851 to 1852 for a tour of artistic landmarks. Xanthus was a skilled painter of landscape and marine subjects who often travelled with his father to collect sketches. Mary was well-known for her paintings of animals, which she began producing at the age of fourteen. Some of her works were shown in the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where both father and daughter exhibited their paintings at the same event. Mary produced and sold her paintings until her early death in 1878 at the age of thirty-six. The death of his daughter had a profound effect on Russell, who established a prize in her name at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he was a board member.

    II. Chronology

    • 1812 Born in Glasgow, Scotland.
    • 1819 Family immigrates to Pennsylvania.
    • 1829 Begins studies with James Reid Lambdin.
    • 1838 Marries Mary Priscilla Wilson.
    • 1851 Takes family on an artistic tour of Europe.
    • 1878 Daughter, Mary, dies at thirty-six.
    • 1896 Dies in Glenside, PA.

    III. Collections

    • Addison Gallery of American Art, MA
    • Butler Institute of American Art, OH
    • Carnegie Institute, PA
    • Cheekwood Museum of Art, TN
    • Delaware Art Museum, DE
    • Morris Museum of Art, GA
    • Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA
    • Sewell C. Biggs Museum of American Art, DE
    • Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, CT
    • Westmoreland Museum of American Art, PA

    IV. Exhibitions

    • 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, PA
    • 1945 Baltimore Museum of Art, MD
    • 1960 Pasadena Art Museum, CA
    • 1977 Vose Galleries of Boston, MA
    • 1980 The Boston Athenaeum, MA
    • 1989 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA
    • 1999 Schwarz Gallery, PA

    V. Memberships

    • Artist’s Fund Society
    • Board of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

    VI. Suggested Resources

    • Falk, Peter Hastings, ed. Who Was Who in American Art: Artists Active Between 1898-1947. 1985.
    • Ferrante, Ann. “Early Photographic Images of the Smiths: A Family of Artists.” Archives of American Art Journal.Vol.21, Num.4. 1981. pp.19-23.
    • Lewis, Virginia E. Russell Smith: Romantic Realist. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1956.
    • Sweet, Frederick A. The Hudson River School: Early American Landscape tradition. 1945.
    • Torchia, Robert W. The Smiths: A Family of Philadelphia Artists. Philadelphia, PA: Schwarz Gallery, 1999.

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