George Smith (1829 - 1901), British
“Puss’s Breakfast”, 1871
oil on panel, 16 in. x 13 ¾ in.
(framed dimensions: 20 in. x 18 in. x 2 in. depth)
signed lower right: “GS 1871”
In this painting by the Victorian painter George Smith, a quiet moment is depicted – an introspective young girl seems to have taken a break from her chores to sit by the hearth with its dying red embers. She is dressed in an apron pinafore over her housedress and the open door to the kitchen beyond hints at chores to be done. She is thoughtful enough to have emptied the last contents of her cup, perhaps milk, into her saucer to share with the house tabby cat. Smith often painted such interior genre scenes depicting daily life among ordinary middle-class families. Normally, these involve multiple people and many times these domestic views included a cat somewhere in the composition, usually in the background as a secondary element. Here, the cat assumes a primary role in this tender scene. The painting is very accomplished and Smith’s technical skills are on display: the walls and hearth are quickly and loosely brushed in with thin washes of paint while the texture of the brick wall to the right of the girl is rendered very effectively with further scumbled layers of paint. Likewise, many still life elements in the scene are very well done – the blue and white porcelain cup and saucer with their delicate highlights, the teapot, chopper and ceramic items on the mantel, the redware bowls in the kitchen, the hearth andiron and the red brick floor. The girl’s face and hair are sensitively painted as is the tabby cat, whose natural pose Smith has captured quite correctly.
The painting offered here, painted in 1871, may be the same painting titled “Puss’s Breakfast” which Smith exhibited at the autumn 1873 exhibition of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.
The Art Journal of London that year reported on this show, noting that:
“On no previous occasion has a greater number of works of real excellence been shown … From the collection of Mr. Beattie are also two Wilkie-like (Sir David Wilkie, 1785-1841) interiors by George Smith, “The Little Housewife” and “Puss’s Breakfast”. (Smith also exhibited “The Little Housewife” at the Royal Academy that same year.)
Born in London, George Smith studied art at Francis Cary’s (1788-1844) school in London. He entered the Royal Academy in 1845 and also studied with Charles West Cope, R.A. (1811-1890) who was a painter of historical, biblical and literary subjects. In 1844, Smith assisted Cope with the painting of frescoes in the new Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament, which had burned in 1834).
Smith specialized in genre subjects and rustic interiors in the vein of 17th century Dutch and Flemish painters. Around the mid-nineteenth century, he had a particular interest in the theme of rural laborers and learning. He also often painted landscapes and genre scenes that focused on children.
Smith’s first painting to be exhibited was “The Gypsy Girl”, which was shown at the British Institution in 1847. He went on to become a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy from 1848-1887. In total, he exhibited 79 paintings at the Royal Academy, 26 at the British Institute and 15 at the Royal Society of British Artists, as well as many other exhibition venues. One of his earliest patrons was the Prince Consort, Albert. An 1852 painting by Smith (“Study of a Man’s Head”, 1852) was purchased by Prince Albert and remains in the Royal Collection Trust today.
Smith’s style, that of narrative tales set in rather ordinary settings, was the type of genre painting that was very popular before the Victorians began to prefer genre pictures that presented a highly romanticized version of country life in direct opposition to the realities of the rural scene.
He died at his residence, 187, Maida Vale, London on January 2, 1901.
Works by George Smith can be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum; the Manchester City Art Galleries, Manchester, UK; the Royal Collection Trust (UK); and private galleries and collections.
The painting is in excellent condition. It is clean with no paint loss and is UV clean. The wooden support is stable with no splits or repairs and does have a very slight (vertical) curvature as might be expected. The panel bears a label on the reverse from Charles Roberson & Co., London, whose panels Smith used on other paintings as well. There is another label from a private dealer on the island of Guernsey, circa 1980 or so. The signature, “GS” is one Smith used on other works also. The gilt wood-and-composition frame is in fair-good condition. There are scroll elements (composition material) on the right side of the frame that have come loose and been re-glued in place in the past. One piece of this edge scroll on the lower left side is missing (3/4 in. piece). When viewing the painting, this is not apparent unless you look for it. Overall, the painting presents very well as is.
George Smith, "Puss's Breakfast", oil on panel, 1871