Sir Matthew Smith

Mixed flowers in blue vase

Oil on canvas: 25.7(h) x 18.3(w) in /

65.4(h) x 46.4(w) cm

Signed with initials lower right: MS.

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BV 153



Halifax 1879 – 1959 London


Mixed flowers in blue vase


Signed with initials lower right: MS.

Oil on canvas: 25 ¾ x 18 ¼ in / 65.4 x 46.4 cm

Frame size: 33 x 26 in / 83.8 x 66 cm

In its original Louis XIV style gilded composition frame


Painted in 1936, probably in Paris



Arthur Tooth & Sons;

Alex Reid & Lefevre, acquired from the above 4th November 1936;

Private collection

Christie’s 11th May 1973;

Houston Gallery, acquired from the above

Private collection, c. 1970



Mixed flowers in a blue vase is an accomplished example of Matthew Smith’s flower painting from the peak of his career. As the titles of his paintings suggest, only second in importance to the flowers themselves are the vases and jugs that Smith used. A diligent collector, Smith scoured second-hand junk-shops for vessels (an activity he called ‘ferreting’), preferring pottery which was brightly coloured, with ornate curvilinear forms. These vases and jugs were characters which made regular appearances in the flower paintings of this period and often serve to identify one work from another.


Smith turned from his almost total preoccupation with the nude to flower painting in late 1925 producing a series of still lifes with tulips, usually placed on a stool. Over the next ten years, Smith painted a number of flower pieces which were well received by his dealer, Arthur Tooth, whom he joined in 1929. The artist started with simple flower forms and arrangements such as tulips and roses, but as he developed his theme the flowers and their compositions became ever more complex and challenging to his premier coup method of working. Smith worked extremely quickly with no retouching or overpainting, a method so exhausting that when he had finished the work he would crack half a dozen eggs into a bowl and drink them down to restore his strength.


John Gledhill, artist and author of Mathew Smith Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings (2009)



Matthew Smith, Still life of flowers   Matthew Smith, Dahlias, 1929                  Matthew Smith, Flowers

Oil on canvas: 66 x 57 cm           Oil on canvas: 60.9 x 61 cm                     Oil on canvas: 53 x 45 cm

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford      Manchester Art Gallery                           Charleston


The second of four sons of the Yorkshire wire manufacturer, Frederic Smith and his wife Frances Holroyd, Matthew Smith was born in Halifax on 22nd October 1879. Smith studied applied design at the Municipal School of Technology, Manchester from 1901 and then at the Slade School of Art, London from 1905. In 1908 Smith made his first trip to France, visiting the artists’ colony at Pont Aven in Brittany, before travelling around the country, settling in Paris by 1910 and studying briefly at the Académie Matisse. He exhibited at the Salon des Independants in 1911 and 1912.


Smith married Gwendolen Salmond, a fellow student at the Slade, in 1912 and the couple moved to Grèz-sur-Loing until the First World War forced their return to London, where the artist took a studio in Fitzroy Street, Camden. In 1916 he met Walter Sickert and began to exhibit with the London Group, becoming a member in 1920. Smith was mobilised in 1917 as an Officer in the Labour Corps and fought at Ypres and Arras where he was badly wounded. After the War he returned to France where he met and developed a lifelong friendship with the artist Roderic O’Conor. Although he frequently visited England, Smith spent the next ten years living and

travelling in France and Italy, eventually settling in London in 1940, again forced by the advent of War. Smith had separated from his wife in the early 1920s and met the painter Vera Cuningham in 1923, his model for an important series of nudes exhibited at his first one-man show at the Mayor Gallery, London in 1926. Smith’s work was represented at the Venice Biennale in 1938 and 1950. In 1949 he was awarded CBE and was knighted in 1954. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Tate Gallery in 1953 and in 1960, the year after his death, the Royal Academy staged a memorial exhibition. The Barbican Art Gallery, London held a retrospective of Smith’s work in 1983 and again in 1995. The Sir Matthew Smith Studio Collection, containing over 1,000 paintings and drawings by the artist, was donated to the Corporation of London by Smith’s model, Mary Keene, in 1974 and is held at the Guildhall Art Gallery. John Gledhill’s Catalogue Raisonné of Smith’s oil paintings was published in 2009.



Modern BritishSir Matthew Smith