Lot #151

F.M. Bell-Smith
Sledding

watercolour
signed and dated 1879 lower left
5.75 x 9.5 ins ( 14.6 x 24.1 cms )

Auction Estimate: $6,000.00$4,000.00 - $6,000.00

Price Realized $20,400.00
Sale date: December 1st 2022

Provenance:
Private Collection
Though born in London, England, Frederic Marlett Bell–Smith immigrated to Montreal in his twenties before settling in Ontario in 1871. At the time that this work was created, the artist was residing in Hamilton, however he also spent time in Toronto and London. Trained at the South Kensington School of Art and in Paris under Courtois, Dupain and T.A. Harrison, Bell–Smith’s style oscillated between a more conservative inclination and a looser, more vibrant aesthetic. While the artist’s favoured medium was watercolour, he began to work in oil two years before this work was created.

Bell–Smith advocated for a distinctly Canadian style and believed that it would rival the masterworks of Europe. Perhaps taking inspiration from his father, a portrait and miniature artist, Bell–Smith captures one of Canada’s favourite winter pastimes in this playful and diminutive picture. The child and his little red sled take centre stage. Bell–Smith masterfully focuses the viewer’s attention on the central group surveying the hill through the vibrant clothing they wear which contrasts with the muted blues and greys of the slope and vista beyond. As an article of historical documentation, the picture gives insight into the winter fashions of the time. On closer inspection, sledders materialize on the hill behind the group and contribute to the impression of a jovial winter day outing.

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Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith
(1846 - 1923) OSA RCA

Born in London, England, his father was John Bell-Smith a portrait and miniature painter. He studied in London at the South Kensington Art Schools, and in Paris under Courtois, Dupain, and T.A. Harrison. He arrived in Montreal in 1867 and worked for a time as a photographer. Active in art circles he was associated with his father in the founding of the Society of Canadian Artists in 1867 along with W.L. Fraser, Otto R. Jacobi, Henry Sandham and A. Vogt. He lived mainly in Montreal until 1871 when he married Annie Myra Dyde and established residence at Hamilton (1871 and 1879-81). He was active in Southern Ontario as an art teacher in public schools at London, (1881-8); Art Director of Alma College, St. Thomas, Ontario, (1881-90) and Director at the Toronto Art School in 1889.

His style falls somewhere between mid Victorian and the modern movements of freer expression. Dr. Hubbard notes how Bell-Smith’s canvas “Lights of A City Street”reveals his conservative inclination of “sober brownish style” and E.F.B. Johnston on the other hand spoke of his brilliant colour and freedom of treatment. The artist chose this conservative style perhaps more for historical scenes. He painted figures, portraits, cityscapes, seascapes, beach scenes, and mountain scenes and most of his work was done in oils or watercolours. Paul Duval tells of how he sold his water colours in quantity at the market place, especially his meticulously done street scenes. He traveled to Western Canada and painted a number of water colours and oils of the Rocky Mountains.

He also went to England to do a series of pictures on the Death of Sir John Thomson who died at Windsor Castle minutes after being sworn in, by Queen Victoria, as a member of the Privy Council of Canada. While at Windsor Castle he did several canvases of the Queen and two of these are in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. In 1896 he studied at the Académie Colarossi in Paris and returned to Alma College Canada in 1897 to resume his duties as art director until 1910. He was an active as an illustrator and contributed to a series of pictures for the book “Picturesque Canada” which contained prose by George Monro Grant and illustrations by more than a score of American and Canadian artists. It was first published about 1882. He was elected Associate Member of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1880 and Member in 1886; Member, Ontario Society of Artists (1872). He died in Toronto, Ontario.

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977