Frank Vining Smith

A Fresh Look at the Paintings of Frank Vining Smith

To understand the importance of  Frank Vining Smith as an artist, one must first appreciate the huge impact that nineteenth century French painting had on Boston collectors, artists, and their teachers at the turn of the last century, when Smith was an art student in that city. The work of Monet was especially interesting to Bostonians, as attested by Trevor J. Fairbrother, a former curator of paintings at the  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

The seriousness of the Bostonians who had begun to collect Impressionist art was confirmed in 1892 when the St. Botolph Club exhibited twenty-one landscape paintings by Monet, all borrowed from local collectors… Two more Monet exhibitions were organized by the St. Botolph Club in 1895 and in 1899, and in 1905 the Copley Society showed ninety-five paintings by Monet and eleven sculptures by Rodin. All these events confirmed that Monet was the Impressionist most Bostonians admired.[1]

Boston artists such as John Singer Sargent, Dennis Bunker, Theodore Wendell, Lila Cabot Perry, John Leslie Breck flocked to France to paint with Monet at Giverny.  Smith’s painting teachers at the Museum School, Frank Weston and Edmund Tarbell, went to study in Paris at the Academie Julian where they learned drawing and paint from live models in natural light.  Smith’s teachers helped him learn the Impressionist way of seeing light and paint using the new French methods.

By 1892, Monet had executed of series of paintings of the Rouen Cathedral depicting the shifting spectrum of colors and casts of light  at specific times of day. For Frank Vining Smith, the nineteenth century clipper ship, like the cathedral of the Middle Ages, was one of man’s most glorious accomplishments and, as Monet had done with the cathedral, Smith now painted the ship at different angles and at different times of day. In much the same way that his teachers Tarbell and Benson painted women clad in white dresses strolling and basking in the sun,  Smith devoted his attention to the figure of the majestic clipper ship and her billowing dress-like white sails with remarkable variation. Unlike his teachers and contemporaries who chose a stationery object or scene, Frank Vining Smith became a master of an added challenge:  the effective incorporation of movement on a two dimensional surface.   Painting in his studio, Smith relied on his visual memory of his subjects at sea,  paying special attention to color, shadows and light.

Sam Wakeman, a shipbuilder and former Cornell varsity football player stood before a Clipper plowing through heavy seas and declared: “Smith knew the wave movements of a big ship going through the water.” With this ultimate pronouncement, there was no higher authority. The decree was final.

On behalf of those (including myself) who have found the work of Frank Vining Smith to be a daily inspiration for so many years, I wish to thank author Jim Craig for writing this worthy volume.

Peter Williams, Paintings Conservator

Boston, Massachusetts

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1 Comment for this entry

  • Clifford Baumer

    I believe I have found an original Frank Vining Smith Oil Painting in a garage that I cleaned out it is in a very old cedar frame no glass but in very good condition. Would you be interested in finding out more about it? I know I am interested in finding out more! It looks very similar to “Across The Western Ocean” and is signed. I am willing to send pictures.

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