Frederick Carl Smith (1867-1955), American
“Boats In Harbor - Evening”, 1927
oil on canvas laid on board, 25 in. x 30 in.
(framed dimensions: 29 ¾ in. x 34 5/8 in. x 1 ¾ in. depth)
signed lower right: “F. Carl Smith”
Exhibited: Laguna Beach Art Gallery, Aug. 6 – Sep. 30, 1927
Exhibited: California Art Club Eighteenth Annual Exhibition, Gallery of Fine & Applied Arts, Los Angeles Museum, Exposition Park, Nov. 17, 1927-Jan. 1, 1928
A fine American Impressionist painting of a harbor scene on what appears to be a summer evening just before twilight. The painting is not inscribed with the location, but I believe it to be one of the fishing wharves in Los Angeles harbor just off the coast of San Pedro. In the summer of 1927, Smith and his wife, who lived in Pasadena, were summering in Laguna Beach about 45 miles south of Los Angeles. The artist portrays a variety of vessels tied up at the wharf, with the larger fishing schooner at center being the central element. Just beyond the tangle of masts and rigging is a structure with staircase which may be designed to hoist fish up to chutes for delivery to a nearby packinghouse. I sense however that what Smith was really after was the end-of-day light and atmosphere, that golden hour before the sun sets. Colors become richer and more saturated in this half-light. He captures on his canvas a kaleidoscope of colors – from the turquoise blues of the foreground water to the cadmium red of the row boat at right center and thence to the cobalt blue of the schooner’s hull, then more reds, yellows and greens as the eye moves through the composition and on to the softer pastel greens and pinks of the harbor and finally the distant shoreline, suffused in soft lavenders, blues, creams and grays. The paint is applied freely with the confident hand of an experienced artist, employing a thick application of scumbled oil paint and broken color in the Impressionist tradition.
Smith exhibited “Boats In Harbor – Evening” at the Laguna Beach Art Gallery in the summer of 1927 which ran from August 6 through the end of September. The Santa Ana Register (Aug. 6, 1927) noted that “F. Carl Smith’s offering is ‘Boats In Harbor’. For several exhibitions we have had the Smith idea of Laguna scenery but in this show the painter has gone back to his first love, boats.”
He also exhibited “Boats In Harbor – Evening” at the California Art Club’s Eighteenth Annual Exhibition from November 17, 1927 to January 1, 1928 at the Los Angeles Museum (Smith’s painting is catalog number 56 out of 63 paintings exhibited). This painting was one of eight that were photographed for inclusion in the Los Angeles Sunday Times (Dec. 4, 1927, see attached photo).
Another painting by Smith from the previous summer, “Painting the Old Ship”, exhibited in Pasadena, bears comparison to “Boats In Harbor”. The former depicts sailing vessels in a harbor at an earlier time of day with brighter sunlight but is similar in regard to composition and paint application. That painting was in the collection of the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York but was deaccessioned in 2015 under the title “The Old Salt Boat”.
The son of a printer, Frederick Carl Smith was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He attended the Cincinnati Art School and the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute. In 1893 he traveled to Europe and studied at the Academie Julian in Paris for five years under the painters William Bouguereau, Gabriel Ferrier and Benjamin Constant. While in Europe, Smith exhibited twice at the Paris Salon and received an honorable mention. In 1895, he married fellow artist, Isabel S. Smith, in London. Returning to the United States in 1900, he exhibited at the National Academy of Design. In 1902 his watercolors won an honorable mention at the American Art Society. In 1905, Smith and his wife moved to Washington, D.C. where they shared a studio. In the capital city, Smith gained renown as a portrait painter, receiving numerous commissions to paint national leaders both in the Federal government and at the State level (such as then Governor of Ohio, Bartlett Willis). He and his wife moved in the highest social circles in that city, exhibiting together frequently and often hosting teas at their home.
The couple traveled widely, including several trips to the West Coast of the United States, the Netherlands, Greece, Turkey, Egypt and the Holy Lands. They also habitually summered in East Gloucester, Massachusetts, where they stayed at the famous “Red Cottage” that was rented by John Sloan and his wife Dolly. Other artists who joined the Sloans and Smiths at the Red Cottage included Paul Cornoyer, Randall Davey, Agnes Richmond, Leon Kroll, Alice Winter and Stuart Davis.
In 1910, Smith visited Pasadena, California for a time to test the local art market and to feel it out as a possible place to relocate. He had his first solo show in Los Angeles that year at the Kanst Gallery – 25 canvases of genre and landscape scenes of Holland.
The Smiths moved permanently to Pasadena in 1917, where it could be said Smith began a new phase of his career. The couple again shared a nearby studio, calling it “The Paint Box”. Smith continued to exhibit at local galleries with figure and landscape paintings from France, Holland, the Orient and the United States. His wife was known for her miniatures and floral still lifes and earlier in her career for her portraits.
Between 1918 and 1931, Smith exhibited every year with the California Art Club, except 1929, showing various paintings of Gloucester, Massachusetts as well as California subjects including mountain, desert and marine views. In 1920, Smith had a solo show at the Battey Gallery. The LA Times noted that his seascape “The Restless Sea”, was “full of magnificent motion”. Smith received a 2nd prize for his figure painting “Angelus” which he exhibited in 1921 at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles. In 1922, the Battey Gallery held another major solo exhibition of F. Carl Smith’s work. The LA Times art critic Antony Anderson wrote that:
“F. Carl Smith has found a brighter and more colorful palette than he has heretofore used, and the result is a greater liveliness of effect …”
In 1923, Smith exhibited at the Carmel Arts and Crafts Club where his two paintings were said to “show knowledge of color and deep sympathy with his subject”. Another painting that year, “The Sunlit Cove” was described as “massively modeled, a forceful rendering of sunlight and moving water”.
The Smiths painted at various locations including Carmel and Monterey and they habitually summered in Laguna Beach, where in 1918 he helped to establish the local art association. The Smiths purchased an oceanfront home there in 1925. The Santa Ana Register said of the Smiths that: “Although world travelers they think that Laguna Beach is the loveliest place they have ever seen”. Smith exhibited frequently at various venues in the Pasadena area, including staging periodic exhibitions and informal teas with his wife at their Pasadena studio, The Paint Box. Smith donated his time to the art community and his studio was a regular depository used by Pasadena artists to ship their canvases to local exhibitions.
Smith could be a bit of a cut-up as evidenced by his winning 2nd prize at the Riggs House Masquerade Ball (Washington D.C.) in 1907 for “his clever impersonation of a native of Tunis. Mr. Smith wore a real Arabian costume, which he had brought back from his last sketching trip”. He would continue to wear costumes and do impersonations at dinner parties and events after the move to Pasadena.
Isabel Smith, twenty-four years her husband’s senior, died in 1938. Frederick continued to exhibit his paintings locally into the 1950s until his death on November 16, 1955 in Pasadena. He was survived by three nieces.
Smith was a member of the Paris American Art Association, the Washington Water Color Club, the Society of Washington Artists (Treasurer), the Columbia Heights Art Club, the Society of Independent Artists, the California Art Club, the Painters & Sculptors of Southern California, the Laguna Beach Art Association, the Pasadena Society of Artists, the Fine Arts Club of Pasadena (elected auditor), the California Water Color Society, and the Artland Club.
Smith exhibited at the Paris Salon, the National Academy of Design, the American Art Society, the Corcoran Gallery, the Society of Washington Artists, the Columbia Heights Art Club, the Society of Independent Artists, the Fine Arts Annual – Philadelphia, the Kanst Gallery – Los Angeles, the Elizabeth Battey Gallery – Pasadena, the California Art Club, the Painters & Sculptors of Southern California, the Shakespeare Club – Pasadena, the Southwest Museum – Los Angeles, the Arts & Crafts Club – Carmel, the Los Angeles County Fair, the Southwest Museum Third Annual, the California Water Color Society, the Potboiler Art Center – Los Angeles, the Pasadena Art Institute, the Long Beach Art Association, the Laguna Beach Art Association, the Pasadena Society of Artists, the Orange County Fair, the Los Angeles Museum, the Fine Arts Club of Pasadena, the Artland Club, the Pasadena Public Library, the Pasadena Art Institute, the Cincinnati Museum Association, and the St. Louis World’s Fair (Louisiana Purchase Exposition).
Awards won: Honorable Mention, American Art Society, 1902; 2nd Prize, Southwest Museum, 1921.
Smith’s paintings are held in the Columbus Ohio State Capitol, the Allegheny, Pennsylvania Observatory, the Denver State Capitol, the Minneapolis Public Library, the Daughters of the American Revolution, Continental Hall, The Capitol, Washington D.C., the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and the Strong Museum, Rochester NY (“Painting the Ship”, 1926, deaccessioned by the Strong in 2015 under the title “The Old Salt Boat”).
Condition: the painting is in excellent condition. The paint surface is clean, and the colors are vibrant. There is no craquelure present and no paint loss. The painting looks very clean under blacklight: there are a couple of minute spots of inpaint in the sky at upper left, and a few small spots the size of a brush tip in the bow of the schooner. I do not know if the canvas was laid onto the board at the time Smith painted it, but I suspect it was due to the complete lack of craquelure or stretcher bar creases. The carved and gilt Arts & Crafts frame has age to it and may well be the original; if not, it is certainly appropriate and is likewise in excellent condition. There are no gallery or exhibition labels – these may have been lost along with the backing paper which I suspect at one time covered the back of this painting. Overall the painting presents great and is ready to hang and enjoy.
Frederick Carl Smith, "Boats In Harbor - Evening", exhibited California Art Club 1927