Lionel Percy SMYTHE

London 1839 - Wimereaux 1918


The son of the 6th Viscount Stratford, Lionel Smythe spent his early years in France before his family returned to settle in London in 1843. He was trained at the Heatherley School of Fine Art in London and began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1863, showing landscapes and maritime scenes. In 1879 Smythe and his wife settled permanently in Normandy, first at Wimereux (where the artist had spent his summer holidays as a child) and, from 1882 onwards, at the Château d’Honvault, between Wimereux and Boulogne, where he was to live and work for the rest of his life.

From 1881 onwards Smythe sent works to be exhibited at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours in London, and from 1892 showed at the Royal Watercolour Society. He also regularly exhibited in Paris, winning a bronze medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889 and a silver medal the following year. Smythe was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1898 (on which occasion one newspaper described the new A.R.A. as ‘an impressionist painter of open-air scenes...a delicate colourist and a very diligent student of Nature’), rising to Academician in 1911.

Smythe’s paintings and drawings of the woods and fields of the countryside of Normandy and the Pas de Calais, as well as maritime subjects and pastoral scenes depicting the daily lives of the rural folk of the region, found a small but appreciative audience among collectors in England. His work came to be associated with that of a group of Victorian artists and illustrators known as The Idyllists - including Frederick Walker, John William North and Hubert von Herkomer - who painted rural subjects tinged with a strain of social realism.

Although the fact that he lived in France meant that his work remained less well known in England than that of many of his contemporaries, the paintings and watercolours he sent for exhibition in London continued to garner critical praise. Writing in 1910, one scholar noted of the artist that ‘Mr. Smythe proves plainly that a man may be as realist and still retain his poetic sense; that he may record the life about him faithfully and convincingly and yet miss none of its poetry, none of its imaginative suggestion, and none, certainly, of the beauty it may happen to possess.’ Characterized by a lightness of touch and subtlety of tone, watercolours by Lionel Smythe are today in the collections of the Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and elsewhere.