- Also known as
primary name: Smetham, James
- individual; painter/draughtsman; British; Male
- Life dates
- No.10, Charlwood Place, Belgrave Road, Pimlico, London
- Painter, circle of the Pre-Raphaelites
(Text from Gere 1994)
Smetham was a curiously isolated figure, conscious of his own isolation. In 1854 he told Ruskin: "I have felt the dearth of intercourse on the subject of my occupations . . . With artists generally I have not felt much drawn to associate" ('Letters', 1902, p. 8). The son of a Wesleyan minister and a lifelong member of the sect, he evolved "a plan of life, beginning in a course of long disciplinary study, and intended to combine art, literature, and the religious life all in one". At first he supported himself by painting small-scale portraits; when photography began to supersede this means of livelihood, he became drawing-master at the Wesleyan Normal College in Westminster. He achieved no popular success, and for the last twelve years of his life was afflicted with madness brought on by a combination of religious melancholia and a sense of disappointment and failure. His work was admired and encouraged by Ruskin, and by Rossetti who remained a faithful friend, and whose letters show that as late as 1878 he was concerned for his well-being.
In 1869 Rossetti described Smetham, apropos of his long review of Gilchrist's 'Life of Blake', reprinted in the second edition, as: "a painter and designer of our own day who is, in many signal respects, very closely akin to Blake; more so probably than any other living artist could be said to be. James Smetham's work - generally of small or moderate size - ranges from Gospel subjects, of the subtlest imaginative and mental insight, and sometimes of the grandest colouring, through Old Testament compositions and through poetic and pastoral of every kind to a special imaginative form of landscape.
"In all these he partakes greatly of Blake's immediate spirit, being also often nearly allied by landscape intensity to Samuel Palmer, in his youth the noble disciple of Blake. Mr Smetham's works are very numerous, and, as other exclusive things have come to be, will some day be known in a wide circle."
Copies of two MS lists of Smethan's works are in the Department of Prints and Drawings.
Trade card in Heal Collection (Heal,90.105) advertises "Terms [date and prices in MS] Oct. 1854. Vignette Portrait in Oil 9" x 7" [£.s.d.] 3-3-0. Head Size 7-7-0. Three Quarters 10-10-0. Do. With One Hand 15-15-0. Kit Kat - Two Hands 21-0-0. Half-Length 36-15-0. Jas. Smetham..." Heal's annotations on mount: "James Smetham, painter & essayist. b.1821-d.1889 - see D.N.B. A friend of Rossetti & other Pre-Raphaelites. Bryan's 'Dictionary of Painters' says: - 'This artist is better known by his writings than by his paintings...he executed many remarkable etchings.' On his marriage in 1854 he settled in Pimlico & afterwards at Stoke Newington. (D.N.B.)."
- Gere 1994
W.Davies (ed.), 'The letters of JS', 1891
idem, 'The literary works of JS', 1893