Jeffrey Smart

Paintings by Jeffrey Smart

Influenced by the Australian modernism of the 1940s, Jeffrey Smart dedicated himself to the representation of the modern city. He executed each painting with classical precision and included repetitious architectural motifs, referencing the Renaissance perspective. Smart painted stark portrayals of contemporary life, choosing as his subject matter the highways, trucks, factories, and even the vacant lots of everyday scenes.

Jeffrey Smart was born in Adelaide, Australia, in 1921. He studied part-time in the late 1930s at the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts under painter Marie Tuck and Rupert Bunny, a master of figure composition. Beginning in 1939, Smart also trained at the Adelaide Teachers College for two years. In this period, Smart visited the studio of Adelaide-based artist Doritt Black, who introduced him to the rules of dynamic symmetry, as seen in the work of the Old Masters and developed by avant-garde artists such as Braque, Cézanne, and Léger. 

The 1940s were a period of artistic growth and raise to fame for Smart, who started to exhibit in group shows alongside other emergent Australian artists, including Jaqueline Hick and Horace Trennery, and was given in his first solo show at Kosminsky Gallery in Melbourne in 1944. In 1945, Smart painted “The Waste Land I” and “The Wasteland II”. These desolate rural views, inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem of the same name, point to the development of the artist’s distinctive hyper-clear and timeless version of landscape painting.

Between 1948 and 1950, Smart travelled to America and Europe, and then moved in Paris in 1949 to study at the Académie Montmartre under Fernand Léger. His several visits to European museum collections in this period will bring Smart to become particularly fascinated with the art of Giorgione, Giovanni Bellini, and especially Piero della Francesca, whose clarity of forms and rigorous use of perspective would greatly influence Smart’s works. In 1950, he lived on the island of Iachia in the bay of Naples, painting alongside contemporaries Donald Friend, Michael Shannon, and Jacqueline Hick. 

Upon his return to Australia in 1951, the artist settled in Sydney, where he will remain for the next twelve years. In the same year he won the Commonwealth Jubilee Prize for his 1951 painting “Wallalroo”, a scene from the daily life of that copper mining town. During his years in Sydney, Smart also worked as an art teacher and art critic at the Daily Telegraph while continuing to paint landscapes. Works from this period, such as the 1962 “Copper Park” and “The Cahill Expressway”, painted also in 1962, mark the beginning of Smart’s mature style, characterized by an increased hyper-clarity and meticulously crafted compositions.

The year 1963 was crucial in the artistic and personal life of Jeffrey Smart, who resumed his travels around Europe and permanently moved to Rome with Australian artist and partner Ian Bent. Thoughout the 1960s and 1970s, Smart’s artistic career gained momentum thanks to prominent solo shows and exhibitions in his homeland of Australia and around the world, including the 1967 solo exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in London and the American touring group show “The Australian Painters 1964-1966”. 

In 1971, Smart purchase a farmhouse in the countryside of Arezzo, a  small town in Tuscany, where he would remain for the rest of his life. This move marked the start of the most prolific period in the his career. Starting from the 1970s, Smart dedicated himself to interpreting the landscape of modern Italy, mixing his own personal and imaginary relationship with the land with his precision details of climate, life, and landscape. While most of his work includes landscapes, in the 1980s and 1990s, Smart produced a small number of portraits and self-portraits, contrasting the accurate likeness with visionary urban settings. 

Jeffrey Smart’s last work entitled “Labyrinth” was completed in 2011, at which time he officially retired. The artist died in Arezzo in 2013 at the age of ninety-two. Even though he lived as an expatriate for most of his life, the majority of his works is now housed by Australian museums and galleries. 

“My only concern is putting the right shapes in the right colors in the right places. It is always the geometry” —Jeffrey Smart

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