Frank Vining Smith

Frank Vining Smith: Maritime Painting in the 20th Century

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


8 Comments for this entry

  • Corena Panaccione

    This is a beautiful web site. Frank Vining Smith was my Grandfather. His first wife was my mother’s mother.. Corena Bazley. The marriage had been arranged by their parents…as the two families had been very close. They had two daughters..Elizabeth and Priscilla. Grandmother and Frank divorced around 1915 or so. His sister..Susan.. always cherished Frank’s daughters until her dying day. I realize that a lot of the history on my Grandfather leaves out his first wife. He and Nell..his second wife..had a very good marriage for many years.He and my mother always kept open a good line of communication. He always sent our family a hand sketched cartoon Christmas card.
    I did attend the F.V.S. exibition at Heritage Plantation back in the 1970s. I am looking forward to the 2010 exhibit at Heritage Museum. Seeing his work brings tears to my eyes because that is the only way I have come know him.I have travelled to New Bedford MA. Yacht Club and to the Mariners Museum in Newport News VA to feast my eyes on his work. He and my mother always kept a good line of communication open between them. I am looking forward to holding in my hands .. the book “Frank Vining Smith: Rediscovered Master Painter of the New England Shore.”

  • Peter Williams

    Dear Corena, I always wondered if Frank ever had children, and I always thought that he did, but as you mention in your note this part of the family history was never mentioned, and seemed a bit mysterious. I do feel a sense of sadness that his children were sort of left out of his history, and this must be a source of hurt, but I hope your letter will help to correct the situation if this is true. I have restored many paintings by Mr.Smith, have written an introduction to Jim Craig’s new book and hope to meet you at Heritage for the opening. Peter Williams

  • Dick Elliott

    As a formal naval officer and naval architect, I have always been drawn to paintings of sailing ships.
    I inherited “Tea Clippers”, a beautiful water color by Frank Smith from my father. He purchased it from Gumps in San Francisco. For years it was displayed in either my father’s office or in our den. I always loved the painting.
    For the past year “Tea Clippers” has hung in my college office. When visitors sit in my office, the painting is behind them. As we converse, my eyes are repeatedly drawn to the smooth lines muted colors of the paining. Its colors are very similar to “Flying Cloud.”
    The painting is currently being reframed. A muted gold frame with thin lines of blue and cream and blue matting will blend well with the blues of the sky and sea and the creams in the sails and clouds.
    The framed portion is 27in x 19-1/2 in.
    Dick Elliott

  • Gail Sturtevant

    Dear Corena,
    I happen to be lucky enough to own a Frank Vining Smith painting. I’ve not seen this painting in any of the galleries that I’ve had a chance to view. It is a beautiful rendering in oil of sand dunes and sky with just a sliver of ocean in the distance. It is in need of cleaning, but still, his gorgeous colors come through.

    My grandfather and Mr. Smith were friends and sailing buddies. I have slides of the two (sometimes with their wives) sailing together as well as slides of him at easel and slides of his home (in Hingham, I believe) from the outside.

    Today, in going through a group of old photographs I found two different 11 X 14″ photographs of Mr. Smith in very good condition. If you’re interested in seeing the slides and these photographs please email me at and we’ll stitch something together.
    Gail Sturtevant

  • Lola Osborne

    a bookmark to your internet site was provided by Themelis Cuiper’s SocialGarden studies of CRM & socialmarketing, you are doing a sweet job as he is pointing towards you.

  • Tarky7

    Hi Lola, Thank you for reporting such good news! Hope your summer is going well! Thanks again!

    ~ Kit

  • Virginia McMillan

    I have a picture I believe is from a calendar that my father framed . My father was in the Navy during World War II. The picture is called Taking the Lead and on the back of the frame there is affixed an article about it saying it was for a calendar and is by Frank Vining Smith. Back in the 40’s there was no acid free paper and the picture has some mildew or spots. I would love to have another copy of this painting but have not been able to find it. Again, it has written under the picture, “Taking the Lead” and is by Frank Vining Smith. Thanks for any help!
    Virginia McMillan

  • Kenneth E. Hall

    Since I was an infant, a picture of a Delta Steamship leaving Rio de Janeiro harbor hung in my grandmother’s sewing room. My grandfather was en electrician who sailed aboard many such vessels in the Fourties and Fifties – mostly for Lykes Bros., but a few for Delta. I have no record of him sailing in the SS Del Brasil.
    When he passed on in 1985, I inherited most of his belongings, including the framed print by Frank Vining Smith, dated 1940. It is among my most cherished of my possessions. Although I have visited many of the places he spoke of, one of my favorite is one he only visited in this painting – Rio de Janeiro. I just returned from another trip there, and again saw the scene as depicted in the painting, minus the ship – now long gone. Whenever I see those beautiful mountains and harbor, I think of him.
    Now I am becoming acquainted with the artist through this website. Thank you for introducing me to someone whose work has been a part of my life for over sixty years!

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