EDITH AGNES SMITH, NSSA, MAA (Canadian, 1867-1954)
Oil on board
Signed lower left 'Edith Smith'
Signed and titled on verse '"Masquerade" / painted by Edith A. Smith, Halifax, Nova Scotia'
24 inches by 19-1/4 inches
In period Art Nouveau giltwood frame
Edith Agnes Smith was born in Halifax on October 2, 1867 to a family of painters, illustrators and designers. Her formal studies began under George Harvey at the Victoria School of Art and Design (now NSCAD University), followed by post-graduate work in Boston in 1892. On returning to Halifax, Smith opened a studio with her younger brother Lewis and in 1910 briefly taught classes at the Victoria School of Art and Design. In 1912, after further art studies in London at the Chelsea School of Art, Smith became Art Mistress at the Halifax Ladies College (now Armbrae Academy) where many noted female artists of Nova Scotia received their first lessons. She held this post until 1950.
On her return to Halifax Smith joined the fledgeling Nova Scotia Museum of Fine Arts (now the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia) and served several terms on the executive committee.
In 1936 she began campaigning for a community auditorium, public library and art gallery to be housed in the Post Office Building (the current home of the AGNS). As President of the Nova Scotia Museum of Fine Arts, she declared that this body had been founded "to form a nucleus for a future art gallery, but no gallery has ever been provided." It was typical of Smith’s dedication to the local art community that she persisted despite many frustrations in her attempt to find a physical home for the NSMFA collection. Although she was ultimately unsuccessful in finding permanent gallery space, Smith helped shape the early collection of the future AGNS with works by Frances Jones Bannerman, Lewis Smith, Stanley Royle, Marion Bond, Arthur Lismer and other key artists.
Smith began exhibiting in the 1890s. Her earliest works centred on the depiction of wildflowers and 'nature studies', reflecting the local influence of Maria Morris Miller. She was later influenced by neo-Impressionists like Pissarro and associated with Arthur Lismer and her close friend J. E. H. MacDonald.
In 1922, she joined her brother Lewis and Robert Strath along with eight other artists to launch an exhibition whose success led to their founding the Nova Scotia Society of Artists (NSSA) in 1923. Smith, was deeply involved with the NSSA. She exhibited her work in the NSSA exhibitions every year from 1922 until her death in 1954. She was twice elected president of the society and before her death was made an honorary president. She was also one of the original members of the Maritime Art Association (MAA) and a regular contributor to its exhibitions.
Smith also exhibited nationally with the Royal Canadian Academy, the Montreal Art Association and the Ontario Society of Artists.
Smith's artistic accolades as follows:
Victoria School of Art & Design, 1887-91, 1898-99
Boston Art Club & Boston Museum of Fine Arts School, 1892-93
Chelsea School of Art (London, UK), 1912.
Halifax Ladies' College, Instructor, 1896 and 1912
Victoria School of Art & Design, Instructor, 1916-18
Halifax Ladies' College, Art Mistress, 1912-50
Nova Scotia Museum of Fine Art (Art Gallery of Nova Scotia), Founder-member, 1908
Nova Scotia Society of Artists, Founder-member, 1922
Nova Scotia Society of Artists, President, 1932-34, 1941-42
Edith Smith died at Petite Riviere, Nova Scotia in 1954.
The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Edith A. Smith Scrapbook: 1920s-1930s. Scrapbooks 199-200, Public Archives of Nova Scotia
Edith Agnes Smith (Canadian, 1867-1954) 'Masquerade' circa 1925-30
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BARASET HOUSE FINE ART
Compositionally, 'Masquerade' borrows much in it's arrangement from several works by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, most notably 'Black and Red (or Study in Black and Gold (Madge O'Donoghue))', 'Arrangement in Grey and Black, No.2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle', and the famous 1871 portrait of Whistler's mother titled 'Arrangement in Grey and Black- Portrait of the Artist's Mother'. Smith's addition of dramatically cast light and shadows to the monochromatic background - particularily the large figural shadow to the left of the sitter - presents a profoundly avante-garde and unique take on Whistler's arrangment.
According to Robert H. Stacey "Smith's masterpiece...is a large three-quarter figure composition, The Red Cloak painted in 1923...In the view of Patrick Condon Laurette, this canvas, 'despite the Gwen or Augustus John tonality and aspect, suggests as well an hommage to the Renaissance-inspired and New Hampshire painter Abbott H. Thayer, who died two years before the Smith picture was completed'. A likelier model would have been Whistler's Harmony in Red - Lamplight (Mrs. Whistler), a full-length portrait of a woman in a cloak, painted in oils in the mid-1880s. The NSSA acquired The Red Cloak in May 1923 from the first NSMFA exhibition".
Smith's celebrated work 'The Red Cloak' dated 1923 is in the permanent collection of The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and is stylistically comparable to the present work. These rare post-impressionist portraits by Smith represent a very small but most important portion of her oeuvre. A smaller portrait titled 'Alice' (private collection) dates to the same period as 'The Red Cloak' and 'Masquerade'. It is appears that 'Masquerade' is amongst Smith's largest and most ambitious portraits. The identity of the sitter in Masquerade remains a mystery, though similarities to the sitter in The Red Cloak (1923) are apparent.