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American & European Paintings - September 2008
 
 
painting
 
Xanthus Smith
(American, 1839–1929)
Rocky Coast, Maine, 1918
Oil on paper, 5 3/8 × 7 3/4 inches
Signed and dated at lower left: “X S May 28/1918”
RS 6165


Xanthus Smith was born in Philadelphia, son of the noted landscape and theater scenery painter Russell Smith (1812–1896) and artist Mary Priscilla Wilson Smith (1819–1874); his sister was the artist Mary Russell Smith (1842–1878). Russell Smith later explained that he gave his son such an unusual first name because he did not want him to be confused with John Rowson Smith (1810–1864), an artist he considered to be “a great scamp.” Xanthus Smith was educated at home by his mother, who also gave him drawing lessons. As a youth he was attracted to the sea, and made many sketches and watercolors of ships.

Smith accompanied his family on an extensive European tour from 1851 to 1852, and carefully studied the works of art that he saw there. After returning to Philadelphia he began to paint in earnest, and registered to draw at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts around 1858. He first exhibited a landscape at the Academy in 1856 and continued to show his paintings there until 1887. Smith enlisted in the Navy at the outbreak of the Civil War, and served two tours of duty as a captain’s clerk. His depictions of major naval battles between the new ironclad ships were greeted with great critical acclaim, and by the 1876 Centennial Exhibition Smith was considered America’s foremost painter of Civil War naval engagements.

After the Centennial Exhibition art patrons began to favor recent European styles, and Smith’s work went out of fashion. Financially independent, he married in 1879 and settled into a comfortable domestic existence at the family residence, Edgehill, in Glenside. Smith began to spend summers on Mount Desert Island, Maine, in 1877 and later bought a summer home at Casco Bay. Later in life he produced views of the countryside around his home in Glenside, such as the seven paintings listed here, many of which he sold through James S. Earle & Son and Charles F. Haseltine, the main art galleries in Philadelphia. He also became an accomplished photographer. Smith died at the family estate.


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