Review: Not Interesting, but Nice; Matthew Smith: The Poetics of Colour/Nothing Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry

The Birmingham Post (England), March 4, 2002 | Go to article overview

Review: Not Interesting, but Nice; Matthew Smith: The Poetics of Colour/Nothing Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry


Byline: Terry Grimley

Matthew Smith is a painter who seems in some strange way to have dropped out of the history of British art, though some might think he never really belonged to it in the first place.

Smith is the British 'Fauve', the artist who took Matisse's extravagantly expressive, colour-led painting of the first decade of the 20th century as his point of departure and never radically revised his style in a career spanning five decades.

He studied in Matisse's studio and the conventional view used to be that he was more a French than a British painter. In the context of a national artistic inferiority complex this was generally understood to be a compliment.

The implication was that the French were born with brushes in their hands, whereas the hapless British toiled at colouring-in drawings. But nowadays if you were to put Smith's paintings alongside those of Spencer Gore or Harold Gilman, two British contemporaries who were themselves inspired by recent developments in French art, the result would surely be an advertisement for the virtues of good draughtsmanship.

It is perhaps above all the rubbery, unbeguiling lines of Smith's later paintings which explains the painful fact that you never really want to look at any of them for long. That, and the fact that even Smith's colour is not exempt from the laws of diminishing returns.

This exhibition is drawn from the extensive collection owned by London's Guildhall Art Gallery, a gift of what was formerly Smith's own collection. If this raises expectations that it represents Smith at his peak, the reality is a disappointment. He was at his best in the years leading up to and during the First World War, a period represented here by two strong French landscapes and Nude in a Chair (1914-15), which also shows that Smith was quite close to the Bloomsbury school at this time. …

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