Frank Vining Smith

Frank Vining Smith History

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

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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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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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