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 Ismael Smith Y Mari  (1886 - 1972)

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Lived/Active: New York / Spain      Known for: painting and sculpture, bookplates

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Ishmael Smith is primarily known as Ismael Smith Y Mari

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Ismael Smith Y Mari was primarily a sculptor and one of the favorite young artist's of the influential Barcelona art critic Eugenio d`Ors, who included Smith in his list of "nuocentistes" in 1906.

Ismael enjoyed a generous scholarship to study in Paris from the Barcelona City Hall. In Paris, he resided and exhibited with success from 1911 until the start of the World War. He left behind numerous sculptures in a warehouse but brought along to Barcelona a large number of drawings and engravings. He was enrolled for two courses in the Paris Ecole des Arts Decoratives.

His drawings and etchings combine the virtuosity of detail and color of the world of fashion for magazines and couturiers and have an expressionist bent in depicting the low life of "la Ville Lumiere".

Ismael moved to London in 1918. He had participated in the Grafton Galleries exhibition of Spanish Art in 1914 with two of his engravings of scenes of bullfighting and received critical acclaim in The Connoisseur.

Along with his mother three brothers and sister, he moved to New York where he tried to compete as an engraver and sculptor and obtained one year the first prize of the Salgamundi Club. But his real popularity and economical success came unexpectedy as designer of ex-libris.

When the clan of the Smiths -the widow mother and the four brothers and sister Ana Maria moved to Irvington in 1941, Ismael abandoned his artist career but continued drawing mostly nudes of women of which I left in the boxes of Paco more than 400. They were all done en fine paper with the date on the back traveling by train to Manhatan to draw from models in Academies and Broadway porno shows.

The New York Public Library owns a very complete collection and the American Society Bookplate Collectors and Designers dedicated to Ismael Smith his Year Book of 1988/89.

_______
Addendum:

Although his full name in the Spanish way mentioning the mother surname is Smith i Mari, he never used it neither in Spain nor in New York where because of feeling that Smith was so common he decided, especially in the prints, to sign Señor or Senor Ismael Smith. 

The best biographical study of him is the article in Goya magazine of Madrid (with a cover of a Smith color drawing of Paris 1911) numbers 199-200  1987 titled Ismael Smith i Mari (Barcelona, 1886, Nueva York, 1972) 20 pgs. 33 illustrations. It was reprinted by the Museum de Art de Cerdanyola with a translation in Catalan in a smart little book in 2007 upon receiving from E.G-H (Enrique Garcia-Herraiz) a big donation of Ismael Smith works to justify a special room of the Museum dedicated to this Catalan artist.

It is relevant to know that E.G-H. and Mrs. Elizabeth Knapp received from Frank, the surviving brother of the artist, (called in Spanish Paco) all his belongings of art works from Ismael kept in boxes in Mrs Knapp's house at Irvington on the Hudson. E.G-H before moving to Spain donated an important group of works to the Hispanic Society of New York, which organized an exhibition and gave several ex-libris to the N.Y Public Library to enrich its already important collection of this artist.

In Spain, he proceeded to donate the original copper plates and old prints to the Calcografia Nacional of Madrid and the Bibliorteca Nacional de Cataluya with the condition to make a new edition and a printed catalogue.

Many drawings and  prints went to the Contemporary Art Museum (later on renamed Museo Reina Sofía) MNAC (Catalan Art Museum) and Museum Lazaro Galdiano of Madrid. Most of the preparatory drawings for the ex-libris went to the Biblioteca Nacional of Madrid. After all these donations were accomplished, the co-owners decided to finish for practical reasons keeping for Elizabeth Knapp a small number of representative works to join her belongings of ceramic small sculptures she had at her Irvington residence. She died in 2009.

Paco Smith in 1984: All the works were donated by "Enrique Garcia-Herraiz and Elizabeth Knapp" and later on by "E.G-H  in memoriam of Paco Smith". Ismael Smith made 119 different prints of which 14 are lithographs including some four ex-libris since the La Primera Vanidad Barcelona 1909 till 1934, when he signed The Law of Christ in New York.

Since his arrival in New York early in 1919,  I.S. participated in numerous etchers exhibitions but perhaps the Brooklyn Society of Etchers was his more constant venue in the Annuals shows. His main topics were Spanish Typical Scene with bullfights and flamenco dancers, Biblical subjects and portraits, a genre in which he excelled.

But since 1933 after his failure with the only sculpture commission he had - a Saint Therese for the Washington Cathedral, now lost, I.S. interest passed on from art to science. He believed he had discovered the cause and remedy of cancer and developed an obsessive activity in Libraries and medical societies. All his pseudo scientific writings are kept in the Hispanic vaults.

Ismael was interned by his brother Paco in 1962 in the Bloomingdale Psychiatric Hospital in White Plains where he died after twelve years of confinement. His last works were done in ceramic. Heads of Nurses, one of them, can be seen at the Foundation Palau in the small town of Caldetas on the Catalonian coast.     


This biographical information was provided by Enrique Garcia-Herraiz, who was a friend and neighbor of the brother of Ismael, Frank Smith in Irvington, N.Y around 1980. Before he died in 1984, Frank called Paco among his friends and gave me and her lady friend Elizabeth Knapp all he kept of his brother artist. The Hispanic Society of New York, the Museum of Barcelona, the Reina Sofia in Madrid etc, have received donations from this origin.

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