The Stepping Stones
Oil on board, 12 × 10 inches
Signed and dated at lower right: “Xanthus Smith/1875”
Inscribed on reverse: “‘The Sepping [sic] Stones’/Painted by Xanthus Smith/1875/Abington Pa.”; also bears artist’s label and Winsor & Newton stamp.
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.
Copyright©2008 The Schwarz Gallery