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Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith

 (1846 - 1923)
Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith was active/lived in New York, Ontario, Quebec / Canada, United Kingdom.  Frederic Bell Smith is known for town-landscape paintings, illustrations, photography, teaching.

Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith

Biography from the Archives of askART

Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith was a painter, illustrator, photographer and educator.  He was born in London, England and died in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  He emigrated to Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1867, and subsequently lived in Hamilton, Ontario  (1871-1874), Toronto (1874 -1879) and London, Ontario (1881 -1888) before moving permanently to Toronto in 1888 where, except for travel, he lived for the rest of his life.
His primary mediums were oil and watercolour.  Works in other mediums are very rare.  Of the 138 Bell-Smith works in Canadian museums, there are only ten that are not in oil or watercolour (1); of the 497 AskART image examples (at the time of writing Dec. 2009), taken from world wide auction results, there are none in mediums other than oil or watercolour. 

His subjects are landscapes, cityscapes, mountains, canyons, rivers, genre, historical subjects (2) and portraits (3).  The locations of his landscapes and cityscapes range across Canada from New Brunswick and Quebec to Vancouver Island.  As a member of an informal group known as the Railway Artists*, he frequently traveled across the country on painting trips (see below).  Many of his most notable paintings are of the Rocky and Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia and of London (England) streets (see AskART images).  There are also paintings from his travels in France, the Netherlands, Maine and New Hampshire.

His styles are Impressionism*, Realism* and Tonalism.*
His first art training was with his father, artist John Bell-Smith (see AskART).  He also studied at the Royal College of Art (4) before coming to Canada; and, on two occasions, at the Academie Colarossi* in Paris (1891 - 1892 and 1896) under Joseph-Paul Blanc, Gustave Courtois, Benjamin Constant, Thomas Alexander Harrison (AKA: Alexander Harrison) and Edmond-Louis Dupain (see all in AskART).
His teaching career included the Ontario School of Art, Toronto (1877-1878); Central Public School, London, Ontario (1882-1888); and Principal of the Western Branch of the Toronto Art School (c.1888 -1990).  During much of this time, he was also Director of Fine Arts at Alma College, St Thomas, Ontario, near London, (1881- 1890 and 1897-1910) (5).
His travels include trips to England, France and the Netherlands from 1891 to 1892; England in 1895; and France and England from 1896 to 1897.  His first trip to the Rocky Mountains was in 1887 on a pass given to him by the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Over the next three decades (his last trip in 1918), it is estimated he crossed Canada eleven times.  His other travels must have also included New Hampshire, U.S.A. as there are paintings from there dated 1883, 1885 and 1895, and he is listed as a White Mountain Artist*.  He must have also traveled to Maine, U.S.A. around 1887, as there is a painting in the National Gallery of Canada titled Whitehead, Portland, Maine dated 1887.
Bell-Smith was a founding member of the Society of Canadian Artists (1867), the Ontario Society of Artists (1872) (President, 1905 -1908), the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (ARCA 1880, Academician 1886) and the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto (1908).  He was a member of the Palette Club of Toronto (1892 - 1894); the New Water Colour Society of Toronto (1900 - 01); and the Royal British Colonial Society of Artists, London, England (1908).  He was also a member of the Toronto Dickens Fellowship, where he served as President from 1910 to 1920.
He exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts from its founding in 1880 until 1922 and with the Art Association of Montreal (6) from 1880 until 1923.  His works were also included in some notable international exhibitions such as the "Colonial and Indian Exhibition" at Royal Albert Hall, London, England (1886), the "World's Columbian Exhibition" (AKA: Chicago Exposition*, AKA: Chicago World's Fair) (1893); the "Toronto Industrial Exhibition" (1893); the "Pan-American Exhibition" in Buffalo, New York (1901) and the "Louisiana Purchase Exhibition"*, St. Louis (1904) (7).
Posthumously, his works were included in the "British Empire Exposition" (Wembley, England (1924), "300 Years of Canadian Art" (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa -1967), "Nine Regional Nineteenth Century Artists" (Museum London, Ontario -1978), "Canadians in Paris, 1867-1914" (Art Gallery of Ontario -1979), "The Language of Colour" (Art Gallery of Ontario - 1983), "Lucius R. O'Brien: Visions of Victorian Canada" (Art Gallery of Ontario -1990), "Canadian Artists Overseas" (Art Gallery of Windsor, Ontario -1992), "Towards the Group of Seven and Beyond" (Kamloops Art Gallery, B.C. -1998) and recently (2009), in "Expanding Horizons: Painting and Landscape Photography of American and Canadian Landscape 1860 -1918" organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and showing in Vancouver, B.C. from October 17, 2009 to January 17, 2010.
His first solo exhibition was at the Art Association of Montreal in 1868.  The Art Gallery of Toronto (8) had a Memorial Exhibition in 1923.  In 1977 the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.) organized an exhibition of his work which toured the country.  Accompanying it was a 134 page colour catalogue titled Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, 1846 -1923 by Roger Boulet (see AskArt Book references).
His works are avidly collected.  They are also in numerous public collections including the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Ontario), the Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton), the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Art Gallery of Windsor, Confederation Centre Art Gallery & Museum (Charlottetown, P.E.I.), the Glenbow Museum (Calgary, Alberta), the Joliette Art Museum (Quebec), the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University, Montreal), the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg, Ontario),  the Mackenzie Art Gallery (Regina, Saskatchewan), the Robert McLaughlin Gallery (Oshawa, Ontario), the Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan),  the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax),  the McCord Museum, (McGill University, Montreal), Museum London (Ontario), the National Gallery of Canada, the New Brunswick Museum (St. John), the Museum of Quebec (Quebec City), the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery (Owen Sound, Ontario), the Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba), the Canadian War Museum (Ottawa), the Vancouver Art Gallery (B.C.) and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, (Banff, Alberta).
From 1872 to 1879 Bell-Smith worked as a photographer first for James Inglis, then L. Eckerson, and finally as partner in Cunningham & Bell-Smith; the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada have examples of his photographic work in their collections.
He also worked as an illustrator for The Canadian Illustrated News between 1872 and 1884; and he contributed illustrations to the magazine Picturesque Canada in 1882.  Examples of his illustrations can be found in the collection of the Stewart Museum at the Fort Ile St. Helene (Montreal).
Among his honours and awards are the Governor General's Gold Medal awarded at the second Annual Royal Canadian Academy exhibition (c.1882) and the Jessie Dow Prize for watercolour awarded by the Art Association of Montreal in 1909.  In 1928 Canada Post issued a 10 cent stamp with the image of Bell-Smith's painting of Mount Hurd (British Columbia).
(1) Two wood engravings on paper are at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia; 1 composite albumen photographic print at the Art Gallery of Ontario; 1 coloured silverprint at the National Gallery of Canada; 2 coloured prints at the Art Gallery of Hamilton; 1 coloured lithograph in the National Library and Archives; 2 illustrations at the Stewart Museum; and a  planographic print at the Canadian War Museum.
(2) In 1894, the Prime Minister of Canada Sir John Sparrow David Thompson died suddenly while visiting Queen Victoria in England.  Bell-Smith painted three large canvases depicting the events that followed: the Queen laying a wreath on the casket, the casket arriving in Canada and the funeral.  When the paintings were displayed in Toronto, they attracted national attention and future commissions for the artist.
(3) In 1895, Queen Victoria sat for a portrait.  A painting by Bell-Smith of Bell Smith painting the Queen is in the National Gallery.  Interestingly, when he wrote of about the experience, Bell-Smith noted that he spoke mostly German with her.  A testament perhaps to his linguistic abilities, the Queen's beloved late husband, Albert, was, of course, German.
(4) At the time often referred to as the South Kensington Schools
(5) His position as director of Fine Arts at Alma College appears to be one that he could hold while teaching elsewhere. London and St. Thomas, Ontario are only 10 miles apart.
(6) The AAM became the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1948.
(7) The Canadian Artists won 16 awards at what was billed as the greatest exhibition in the Western Hemisphere.  However, what must surely be encouraging to all non-award winners, the works of Monet, Degas, Renoir and Rodin, also at the exhibition, received none.
(8) Renamed the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1966.
 * For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary
Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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About  Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith

Born:  1846 - London, England
Died:   1923 - Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Known for:  town-landscape paintings, illustrations, photography, teaching

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Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith

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