James Smetham

(1821—1889) artist and writer

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(1821–89). English painter. Smetham was born in Pately Bridge (Yorks.), the son of a Methodist minister. He was articled to the Gothic Revivalist architect Edward Willson (1787–1854), in Lincoln, leaving after three years to become a painter. He painted portraits in Shropshire before entering the RA Schools (see under London) in 1843 where he met Rossetti. From 1851 to 1877 he was a drawing master at the Wesleyan Normal College, Westminster. In 1854 he met Ruskin, who championed his work which already, as in The Eve of S. Agnes (1858; London, Tate), showed elements of the mystical intensity which characterized his later paintings. However he was never to be successful. In the late 1850s he was briefly influenced by Pre-Raphaelite realism and subjects and The Knight's Bridal (1865; London, BM) owes much to Rossetti's watercolours of 1857 which he greatly admired. His mysticism led Rossetti to compare him with Blake, an artist Smetham loved and whose Life, by Gilchrist (1863), he reviewed in the Quarterly of January 1869. Smetham, who first suffered a nervous breakdown in 1857, developed severe religious mania and insanity from 1877, only alleviated by Rossetti's financial and practical assistance.

From The Oxford Companion to Western Art in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.

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