Frank Vining Smith

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Publication of Book – Frank Vining Smith: Maritime Painting in the 20th Century

by on Jun.13, 2010, under Frank Vining Smith: Maritime Painting in the 20th Century

Frank Vining Smith: Maritime Painting in the 20th Century - HardPress Editions

Frank Vining Smith: Maritime Painting in the 20th Century - HardPress Editions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Lenox, MA June 22, 2010 – Hard Press Editions is pleased to announce the publication of Frank Vining Smith: Maritime Painting in the 20th Century, the most comprehensive survey of one of America’s greatest marine artists.  Influenced by the New England shore of his youth, Smith is known for his versatility, color palette and realism—capturing every line of rigging, sail plan and line of a ship’s hull with unerring accuracy that captivated brash sailors and the general public alike.  Perhaps best known for his majestic clipper ships along the New England shore, Smith was a prolific artist and illustrator whose subject matter went beyond his portrayal of the nautical world to include works depicting the great outdoors in a career that spanned both World War I and World War II and beyond.

From clipper ships to schooners to whalers, Hard Press Editions casts the spotlight on Frank Vining Smith (1879-1967), prolific maritime painter of the Golden Age of Sail.

Born in Whitman, Massachusetts in 1879, Frank Vining Smith summered on Cape Cod and made Hingham, Massachusetts his home. Unable to enter the Navy, he focused on painting—combining it with his love of all things nautical. Smith enrolled at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and studied under Frank Benson, Philip L. Hale & Edmund C. Tarbell.  He then studied at the Central Ontario School of Art in Canada and, finally, at the Art Students League in New York City.  Smith began working as an illustrator for the Boston Herald at the age of twenty-three and also executed many illustrations and paintings for the Boston Journal, Outdoors, Field & Stream, and Yachting. His illustrations came to define a generation enjoying the pastime of “leisure and the great outdoors.” Many of Smith’s illustrations are reproduced in this book for the first time.

At the age of 47, Smith was able to paint full-time.  World War II brought a resurgence of patriotism and, for Smith, a broadening list of patrons and commissions. His clients included such captains of industry as Josiah K. Lilly Jr. (of Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals fame), fine art connoisseur and museum founder Julian de Cordova and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Smith’s ability to transform a common scene of antiquity into a vibrant and modern one, garnered him critical and financial success during his lifetime.

The extensive collection of  works in this title is an invitation to rediscover Smith’s admiration for maritime traditions and brilliance as an artist.

A comprehensive exhibition entitled “The Art of Frank Vining Smith” is scheduled to debut at the Heritage Museums & Gardens, June 26 through October 31, 2010.

Author James Craig was the associate curator for collections at the Cape Ann Historical Museum from 2003 to 2007. This is Craig’s third title.  Craig’s Fitz H. Lane: An Artist’s Voyage through Nineteenth Century America (The History Press, 2006) was awarded the Gloucester Historical Commission Preservation Award in 2007. He is an independent consultant to fine art collectors, antique dealers and museums. He resides in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Hard Press Editions, in Lenox, Massachusetts, has published Artist Monographs, Art Criticism, Art Theory, Fine Art Prints, Fiction and Poetry since 1992.

Frank Vining Smith-Maritime Painting in the 20th Century Book – Press Release – Warning PDF!

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Frank Vining Smith: Maritime Painting in the 20th Century

by on Feb.15, 2010, under Frank Vining Smith Paintings

Frank Vining Smith, Ancient Mariner


With an astounding body of work that traverses both World War I and II, the maritime paintings of Frank Vining Smith embody a surge of American pride, patriotism and a love of American craftsmanship and naval pursuits. While painters at the turn of the century  were depicting land and seascapes in the newly introduced Impressionistic style,  Smith, hailing from Cape Cod, was able to augment the maritime scene by way of Impressionism in a very unique way. Spanning his entire career, his unique application of color and stroke, clarity of light and playful palette, gave what would have been a very staid and common scene of antiquity, a vibrancy that was undoubtedly modern.  Smith celebrated with the nation its nostalgia and admiration for the great outdoors, sportsmanship, naval vessels and the sea.

With historical and biographical information keenly woven in place by author James A. Craig and a concise and thought-provoking analysis of Vining Smith’s artistic career by Peter Williams, Frank Vining Smith: Maritime Painting in the 20th Century is the definitive survey of America’s last true marine artist.  Divided into eight chapters, text is supported with over 70 color plates, photographs and reproductions of Smith’s work from childhood illustrations, print and advertising work that appeared in magazines and newspapers, to full page reproductions of Smith’s watercolor and oil paintings.

Born in Whitman, Massachusetts in 1879, Vining Smith was influenced by his surroundings and, from an early age, rendered in pencil and paper his encounters with nature in the family’s backyard. Having spent many a summer at Monument Beach in Falmouth, his heart was captivated by the sea and all things nautical. When hopes to enter the Navy were quickly dashed due to poor eyesight, he reverted to his natural artistic talents and wisely incorporated his passion for painting with his love of vessels and the seashore. Subject defined, he headed for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (where he studied under Frank Benson, Philip L. Hale & Edmund C. Tarbell), then to Canada for a time where he attended the Central Ontario School of Art and finally, to New York City where he signed for classes at the Art Students League.

In 1903, at the age of twenty three, he was hired as an illustrator for the Boston Herald and even did advertising work for the Boston Journal. An outstanding illustrator, Smith won several prizes for his magazine and newspaper illustrations depicting a variety of outdoor themes that ran in Outdoors, Field & Stream, and Yachting. Smith’s first major solo exhibition came in 1921 at the Doll and Richards Gallery in Boston and, following consistent sales and journalistic praise, Smith was finally in a position to leave his newspaper career and paint full time in 1926 with a great deal of success, weathering this, the time of the Great Depression.

With the onset of World War II, came a surge of patriotism and, for Smith, a blossoming list of patrons and commissions. From numerous calendars, books, and postcards to prestigious museums, the wardrooms of United States Navy warships and the offices of America’s industrial giants, his art was to be found hanging proudly. His clients included such captains of industry as Josiah K. Lilly Jr. (of Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals fame), fine art connoisseur and museum founder Julian de Cordova, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After paying a high price for The Seventh Wave, it was Julian de Cordova, founder of the de Cordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts (the first American museum to focus on contemporary New England artists) who asserted to Smith that although he had works “by the most collected American and Foreign artists, none…match your artistic genius.” In the late forties, his fortunes soared, but Smith’s personality remained solid and unchanged with a “quiet humor,” and an admirable “patient love of his fellow man.” Frank Vining Smith died in 1967.

Smith’s success was in his unique ability to find the balance of confidence and calm in his painting. He set out not to depict the confrontation or outcome of a battle but to display these grand vessels majestically, with flawless accuracy and detail. Smith’s canvases, visual articulations of the stealth of America’s military and the bravura of its people, embody a timeless patriotism that continue to command our attention today.

This comprehensive exhibition is scheduled to debut at the Heritage Museum Opening June 26 through October 31, 2010

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A Fresh Look at the Paintings of Frank Vining Smith

by on Feb.04, 2010, under Frank Vining Smith Paintings

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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Frank Vining Smith – The Chicago Evening Post, May 22, 1928

by on Sep.14, 2009, under Frank Vining Smith History

These sentiments would be echoed in the Post the following year as well:

THE annually recurrent exhibition of paintings of ships and the sea by Frank Vining Smith at the Anderson Galleries always makes an agreeable event about this season. Some thirty of Mr. Smith’s new canvases have just been hung at Anderson’s, and the impression they give is possibly more favorable than it has been in the past.

Even granting the sea’s changeless, ever-changing character and the myriad sorts and conditions of ships that sail it, Mr. Smith’s fertility and inventiveness appear more remarkable than ever in this exhibition. His knowledge of his subject is profound, in the opinion of sailors, who are always harsh critics. His ability to paint workmanlike pictures has long been established. But the ease with which he continues to find variations on a now familiar theme remain surprising.

There are only one or two instances of sameness in the whole exhibition, and these appear to be intentional. It seems that there is only one way to paint a graceful clipper ship, and that is head on, with all sails set.

The impression Frank Smith’s art left with the people of Chicago can not be understated. Sales throughout the 1920s in Chicago were brisk for Smith, and would remain so within the following decades. Thus it is not surprising to discover that one of the most sincere and expressive critiques of Frank Smith’s art ever penned was written in conjunction with a showing of Smith paintings at Chicago’s Anderson Gallery:

The Chicago Evening Post, May 22, 1928

Source: Personal sales records of Frank Vining Smith, collection of Heritage Museums & Gardens

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by on Sep.14, 2009, under Frank Vining Smith History

Paintings by Frank Vining Smith are at Doll & Richards, Newbury street, [sic] Jan. 29-Feb. 10.

To be dramatic without being theatrical is an important part of Mr. Smith’s professional equipment. Trained as an illustrator, Smith had a marked readiness in selecting compelling motives for depiction. Innate and trained good taste enabled him to register these motivations in a broad, simple, and dignified way. He ennobles his subjects without departing from actuality. He tells you about something happening without the subject becoming anecdotal.i

Chicago art critics in the 1920s were quite vocal in their appreciation for his work.   Local reviewers proclaimed of his large canvases, “These pictures, in spite of their accuracy and fidelity to fact, have a large and graceful decorative quality,”ii while his smaller compositions drew from them no lesser praise:

In the smaller pictures, action is the keynote. They are terse statements of specific episodes, all of them truthful as well as picturesque, and always conscientiously designed and painted. In spite of their vigor, there is no haste or carelessness about Mr. Smith’s workmanship.iii

Chicago appears to have been as eager and receptive a market for Frank Smith’s work as his native Boston –if not even more so. His exhibitions became, in but a handful of years, highly anticipated annual events greeted warmly by an approving and art-savvy public, as evidenced by the following write-up from the Chicago Post Evening Magazine in May of 1927:

Each year about this time a group of Frank Vining Smith’s paintings of sailing ships is brought to the Anderson galleries. And each year the exhibition presents new material and fresh approach by the artist to a task which has absorbed him for many years in a realm that has very definite boundaries.
The exhibition of Mr. Smith’s paintings which opened at Anderson’s yesterday is no exception to this rule. The artist’s improvement as a technician is paralleled by the fertility of his invention. He does not repeat the same old ideas in the same old way. He finds new ones and treats each in an individual manner. In the present exhibition at Anderson’s there is little repetition either in relation to the show itself or to Mr. Smith’s previous work.
The accuracy of Mr. Smith’s knowledge of ships and the sea is acknowledged by sailors, probably the most merciless critics an artist can have. Even to the lowly landlubber he can make clear the difference in character between the clipper and the whaler, the troopship of the ‘50s and the windjammer of today. His presentation of them in heavy weather or calm rings true, as does his painting of the sea. His storms are never grandiose, his calms never idyllic. iv

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Paintings by Frank Vining Smith

by on Sep.14, 2009, under Frank Vining Smith Paintings

Frank Vining Smith

“Uncharted Seas” and Other Interesting Marine Pieces by Boston Painter at Doll & Richards’s Gallery

Mr. Frank Vining Smith is holding his first Boston exhibition of paintings at the Doll & Richards Gallery, 71 Newbury street, [sic] until November 18. He is a marine painter of distinct merit, who has had an excellent training in his art, and has specialized mainly in illustration.i

With this blunt, simple statement serving as a herald’s trumpet, so was Frank Vining Smith’s grand entrance into the world of fine art first announced. It was in the early winter of 1921 that Smith experienced the excitement and anxiety of his first one-man show, an event that did not fail to draw notice from the Boston papers despite its having only a brief run lasting from November 8thth to the nineteenth of that year.ii Declarations that his work was “distinctly decorative, not to say splendid”iii and “rendered with verisimilitude and dramatic effect”iv readily spilled from the lips of reviewers, while the “warm sunlight”v and “really beautiful and airy sky”vi found within his pieces were particularly commended. Exhibiting an array of varying nautical themes with which to demonstrate his skills and entice interested buyers we find that historical compositions depicting various sail craft through the centuries were present in number, as were a host of lonely seascapes and wooded island landscapes, (the overwhelming majority of which received favorable and enthusiastic criticism). Yet it was his visions of empty coastline that captivated those who viewed the show the most, compelling one reviewer to comment, “There is something doing in the way of surf in all of these canvases, and they are made with a great deal of strong first-hand observation and naturalism.

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