Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith (September 26, 1846 – June 23, 1923) was a Canadian landscape painter best known for his works of the Rocky Mountains and the Selkirk Range.
Bell-Smith emigrated to Canada from England in 1866. He had studied painting in England and worked as an artist and photographer in Montreal until 1871, when he moved to Toronto. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s he sketched, painted, and taught art classes in Toronto, Hamilton, and London, Ontario.
In 1886 Bell-Smith seized the opportunity to paint the Canadian Rockies when the Vice-President of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), William Cornelius Van Horne, offered free travel passes to several artists who would sketch and paint vistas of the Canadian west. The CPR wanted artistic works that would heighten public interest in transcontinental travel. Bell-Smith’s stylistically conservative paintings were popular in both eastern Canada and Britain, and he frequently returned to the west to work. He was particularly fond of the natural splendour of the area around Lake Louise and by the turn of the century he made annual trips to the west.
These experiences led Bell-Smith to advocate a Canadian school of art which drew its uniqueness from the use of the Canadian landscape as its subject matter. Later artists, including Tom Thomson, Emily Carr, and the Group of Seven, contributed to this focus on Canada’s natural environment in art.
Bell-Smith also created many paintings of late Victorian and Edwardian eastern Canada and Britain. One of his most famous and playful paintings is Lights of a City Street, which portrays the intersection of Yonge and King Streets in Toronto in 1894. Bell-Smith depicted himself in the painting as the man buying a newspaper, his son is the man raising his hat, and the policeman is Bill Redford, the constable actually stationed at the corner.
In connection with a series of paintings related to the death of Prime Minister Sir John Thompson in 1894, Bell-Smith managed to negotiate a sitting with Queen Victoria, who normally disliked having her portrait taken by anyone aside from a few select photographers. According to Bell-Smith, he followed the advice of a Canadian senator to approached Lord Clinton and Hafiz Abdul Karim about a sitting with the Queen, but received discouraging replies from both men. Bell-Smith was able to obtain sittings with Princesses Beatrice and Louise, whose husband, the Marquis of Lorne, was a former Governor General of Canada and an advocate of Bell-Smith. The Princesses used their influence to persuade the Queen to sit for Bell-Smith. The cordial sitting lasted for over an hour, during which Queen Victoria permitted Bell-Smith to position her as he wished. Princess Louise, an artist herself, offered Bell-Smith advice. The Queen also spoke to her daughters and other attendants about her grandchildren (mostly in German). At the end of the sitting, the Queen approved Bell-Smith’s work. This anecdotal episode demonstrated Bell-Smith’s influence and popularity in Britain. Indeed, Bell-Smith contemplated moving to Britain in the 1890s, but he decided to divide his time between Canada and Europe.
Bell-Smith continued to paint until his death, although he was less active towards the end of his life.
He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith OSA RCA (Canadian 1846-1923)
“Cheops from the Path to the Glacier Selkirks B.C.”
19″ x 26.5″
Signed and dated (1887) lower left
Titled lower right
Titled, dated and signed, in pencil, verso.
Condition: There is staining to the paper verso that does not affect the image whatsoever. Very good overall.