Artwork by Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith,  Strawberry Picking, Oakville, circa 1900

Frederic M. Bell-Smith
Strawberry Picking, Oakville, circa 1900

oil on canvas
signed lower left
25 x 36 ins ( 63.5 x 91.4 cms )

Auction Estimate: $50,000.00$30,000.00 - $50,000.00

Price Realized $48,000.00
Sale date: June 8th 2023

Mr. and Mrs. Jules Loeb, Toronto
Private Collection
“Ontario Society of Artists 29th Exhibition”, from 2 March 1901, no. 3
“Pan-American Exposition”, Canadian Art Gallery, Buffalo, 1 May‒2 November 1901, no. 3
“Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith (1846-1923)”, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; travelling to Glenbow‒Alberta Institute, Calgary; The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa; The Art Gallery of Stratford; Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queens University, Kingston; London Art Gallery; Art Gallery of Windsor, 15 September 1977‒30 July 1978, no. 3
“The Private Eye: Art, Collectors and Their Stories”, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, 1 July‒14 November 2004 as “Strawberry Pickers, Oakville, Ontario”, circa 1900
“Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven,” Vancouver Art Gallery; travelling to the Glenbow Museum, Calgary; Art Gallery of Hamilton, 30 October 2015‒25 September 2016
“Our Children: Reflections of Childhood in Historical Canadian Art”, Varley Art Gallery, Markham, 13 April‒23 June 2019, as “Picking Strawberries in Oakville”, circa 1900
Roger Boulet, “Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith (1846-1923),” Art Gallery of Greater Vancouver, 1977, plate 3, reproduced page 40 as “Gathering Strawberries”
Ian Thom, et al., “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven”, Vancouver/London, 2015, page 200, reproduced page 78
Though born in London, England, Frederic Marlett Bell–Smith immigrated to Montreal in his twenties before settling in Ontario in 1871. 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. He painted portraits, city scenes and rural landscapes, and most of his work was completed in oils or watercolours.

In “Strawberry Picking, Oakville”, the artist captures a favourite summer pastime for many Ontario residents. As an article of historical documentation, the picture gives insight into the summer fashions at the turn of the century. The women all wear wide-brimmed straw hats and crisp long-sleeved dresses. The male figures, who are carrying the crates of picked strawberries, are both wearing brown and donning boater hats. Bell-Smith excelled in the painting of atmospheric effects, as demonstrated by the warm sunlight that reaches the figures through the clouds, and the soft and muted paint application which evoke the sensation of a humid summer day.

Bell-Smith returned to Europe many times throughout his career, and he established a reputation for himself in Britain after being granted a personal sitting by Queen Victoria in 1895. The artist contemplated moving to Britain during this time, but he decided to remain based in Canada. “Strawberry Picking, Oakville” was painted in 1900, shortly after completing the Queen’s portrait, during the height of the artist's career. Back in Ontario, where he taught and practiced, Bell–Smith advocated for a distinctly Canadian style and believed that it would rival the masterworks of Europe.

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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