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

F.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

Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith (1846-1923) was born in London, England and died in Toronto, Ontario. His earliest training was under his artist father. He attended the South Kensington School of Art under Alexander Hamilton until his family emigrated to Montreal, Quebec in 1867. Later, he studied in Paris at the Academie Colarossi under Joseph-Paul Blanc, Gustave Courtois, and Edmond-Louis Dupain. The artist arrived in London, Ontario in 1881 where he was appointed Art Director of Alma College (St.Thomas) and, the following year, Drawing Master at Central Public School. In 1888 he moved to Toronto where he was named principal of the western branch of the Toronto Art School. He continued to serve at Alma College until 1901. Bell-Smith was a founding member of the Society of Canadian Artists, the Ontario Society of Artists, and the Western Art League. He was elected an Academician in the Royal Canadian Academy and played important roles in many local and national artistic associations. His work was very popular in his lifetime: he painted portrait, genre, and landscape subjects in both oil and watercolour in the impressionistic, picturesque, and sublime styles of the last century. Bell-Smith also won many international honors in his career.