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 Francis Hopkinson Smith  (1838 - 1915)

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Lived/Active: New York/Maryland      Known for: landscape and genre painting, illustration, architecture

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Ad Code: 3
Francis Hopkinson Smith
from Auction House Records.
Luncheon at the Inn
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Francis Hopkinson Smith, noted as an engineer, artist, and storyteller, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 23, 1838. He was the son of Francis and Susan (Teackle) Smith, and great-grandson of Francis Hopkinson, an artist-poet-musician and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Francis' father, who was to appear later as a character in the semi- autobiographical novel, 'The Fortunes of Oliver Horn', seems to have been a man of unusual gifts: a mathematician, a philosopher, and amateur musician who invented a new musical instrument. Like his father, the younger Francis was endowed with versatility, following during his lifetime three successive careers, all of which brought him fame.

Although he prepared for college, financial difficulties made it necessary for him to go into business immediately. He began as a shipping clerk in a hardware store and became, shortly afterward, assistant superintendent in the iron foundry that belonged to his elder brother.

At the close of the Civil War he moved to New York, working again in the office of a foundry until his indignation over the unfair business dealings of his employer led him to quit his job. With a partner, James Symington, he went into engineering, a career that he followed for the next thirty years.

He was responsible for several difficult feats of construction that won him success, among them, the Block Island breakwater; the sea wall at Tompkinsville, Staten Island; the foundations for the Statue of Liberty; and, most difficult of all, the Race Rock Lighthouse, eight miles out to sea with a seven mile per hour rip tide.

During these years working as an engineer, Smith's hobby was painting, an occupation which he preferred to keep separate from the business of making money. He made many friends among the younger artists, and as a member of the New York Tile Club, illustrated several books, including A Book of the Tile Club, to which he contributed anonymous sketches and stories.

There followed two books of travel sketches, charming drawings to which he began to add his impressions in prose. These proved popular and brought him wide recognition as an artist. With more leisure, he devoted the greater part of his time to painting, spending his summers abroad, exhibiting, and publishing his drawings.

Almost accidentally he entered on his third career when he was more than fifty years old. Known as an excellent raconteur, he decided to put into print some of his famous after-dinner stories, and from these grew his first book of fiction, 'Colonel Carter of Cartersville', the delightful tale of an old Virginia gentleman. When this book proved successful he abandoned his engineering career completely and spent the rest of his life writing, lecturing, and painting.

Smith's appearance was that of a prosperous banker rather than an artist. He was tall and vigorous, with sweeping white mustaches. A man who won affection and respect, he carried on his various activities with energy until the last days of his life. He died in New York on April 7, 1915, at the age of seventy-seven, leaving his wife, the former Josephine Van Deventer, and two sons.


Biography from Roger King Fine Art, Q - Z:
The versatile and talented F.H. Smith enjoyed succesful careers as an engineer, artist, and writer.  After the Civil War, he and partner James Symington established the engineering firm they were to run for thirty years, undertaking the construction of the foundation for the Statue of Liberty, the Block Island breakwater, the Staten Island seawall, and the Race Rock lighthouse.

Smith was self taught as a painter.  He illustrated some of his own books, which included twelve novels and numerous travel journals.  His books proved so popular that he was able to retire from engineering and devote his time to travel.

Smith was a popular speaker and raconteur, and his after-dinner stories provided the basis of his first novel.  For over thirty years he spent summers in Venice, painting "en plein air" in watercolor, his favorite medium.  With Arthur Quartley and Charles Stanley Reinhart, Smith was part of the artist colony at Cold Spring Harbor, New York.

He illustrated books, sketches and stories for the New York Tile Club, of which he was a prominent member.  He won many awards, exhibiting at the Brooklyn Art Association, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Boston Art Club, the Pan-American Exposition (1901), and the Charleston Exposition (1902). His work is highly collected and is in many museum collections including the Albright Art Gallery, Brooklyn Museum, Columbus Museum, Corcoran Gallery, Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the Smithonian, and others.


Biography from Newman Galleries:
F. Hopkinson Smith was born in 1838, in Baltimore, Maryland.  He was a self-taught artist known primarily for his landscape paintings and illustrations. He was the treasurer of the American Watercolor Society from 1873 to 1878, a member of the Philadelphia and Cincinnati Art Clubs, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and the Society of Illustrators (both in NYC).

He exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York City, the Brooklyn Art Association, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Boston Art Club, among others.  The Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo collected Smith’s work.

After the Civil War, Smith worked as a naval engineer with fellow artist J. Symington. They built the foundation for the Statue of Liberty and many breakwaters.  By the 1880’s, he had given up engineering in order to paint (a hobby until then), travel, write, and lecture. He was noted especially for his watercolors and charcoal drawings, many of which appeared in his books of travel.

Smith and his fellow artists, Arthur Quartly and Charles Stanley Reinhart, were part of an artists’ colony that developed at Cold Spring Harbor, New York.

He was the author of Col. Carter of Cartersville, Fortunes of Oliver Horn, and American Illustrators.

The artist died in 1915, in New York City.

Biography from Blake Benton Fine Art, Artists S - Z:
Francis Hopkinson Smith, artist, engineer, orator, author, illustrator, born in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 23, 1838.  He was the son of Francis and Susan Teackle Smith, and great-grandson of Francis Hopkinson, (1737-1791), "American composer, author, and politician, born in Philadelphia.  His musical compositions include the song My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free, the first piece of secular music written by an American, and The Temple of Minerva, considered the first American opera.   A lawyer, Hopkinson signed the Declaration of Independence, was a member of the Constitutional Convention, held various posts in the new U.S. government.  He wrote several brilliant satires attacking the British, such as The Battle of the Kegs (verse, 1778)." ("Hopkinson, Francis," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2001)

Francis Hopkinson Smith was raised in an atmosphere of artistic and academic achievement.  His father, an avid reader and intellectual, always tried to impart knowledge to his children.  All this was not lost on Francis who at "an early age demonstrated exceptional ability in mathematics, business, and design" just as his father did.

Intent on going to college after grade school, Francis ran into some financial difficulty that forced him to go to work immediately.  He first worked as a shipping clerk and then shortly afterward he took a job working in his older brother's iron foundry.  Later he moved to New York and used the former experience in his brother's iron foundry to gain employment in the office of another foundry. There he met James Symington a fellow worker with whom he later pursued a career in engineering.  Smith's engineering firm was in business for thirty years, contracting many projects with the Federal Government, including the building of the Race Rock Lighthouse, the Block Island Breakwater, the sea wall on Staten Island, the foundations for the Statue of Liberty, and the architectural plans for the Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse.

In his free time, Smith painted as a hobby (remarkably he was self-taught as an artist) and wrote many notable books, some of which he illustrated, including a best seller, his novel Caleb West: Master Diver (1898), recounting his construction of the Race Rock Lighthouse.  In total he was the author of twelve novels and numerous magazine articles, many of these were first-hand accounts of his travels abroad in Europe, Mexico, and Turkey. Inspiration for his art came from the remote places he chose to visit and "he certainly captured the sights and soul of these exotic places." Smith's works proved popular and brought him wide recognition as an artist.

With the success of his business and as time went on he devoted the greater part of his time to painting, spending his summers abroad, exhibiting, and publishing his drawings.  Some of his works, especially those of Venice, (he spent almost every summer in Venice over a thirty year period) are "en plain air."  He was known for landscapes, portraits, farms, Europe, canals, and boats as well as others.  Almost accidentally he entered on his third career when he was more than fifty years old.  Known as an excellent raconteur, he decided to put into print some of his famous after-dinner stories, and from these grew his first book of fiction, Colonel Carter of Cartersville, the delightful tale of an old Virginia gentleman.

When this book proved successful he abandoned his engineering career completely and retired to a life of travel, painting and writing in Spain, Italy, and Constantinople.  Although he painted with various materials, watercolor was smith's favorite medium and he preferred to work outdoors in natural settings as opposed to studio work.

Smith won many honors and awards during his lifetime including; Bronze medal, Buffalo Expo., 1901; silver medal, Charleston Expo., 1902; gold medal, Philadelphia Art Club, 1902; gold medal, American Art Society, 1902; Commander Order of the Mejidieh, 1898; and the Order of Osmanieh by the Sultan of Turkey, 1900. 

He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters; American Society; Civil Engineers; American Watercolor Society; Philadelphia Art Club; Cincinnati Art Club and others.

He died in New York on April 7, 1915, at the age of seventy-seven.



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