is a folk artist important for his early nineteenth century portraits of residents living in a small area of Maine. In 1963 Smith was a relatively unknown artist with only seven known portraits. Thirty-six oil on canvas portraits, all painted between 1830 and 1837, are now attributed to him. Eight of these are signed, with attribution for the others made on the basis of stylistic characteristics. Six of the portraits are very large, the others measure about 30 by 25 inches. Twenty-three of the subjects, whose names are known, were neighbors, or related by marriage to each other or to members of the artist's family. Smith had no formal training but, living in and around Buxton, Maine, he was undoubtedly familiar with portraits by John Brewster (1766-1854) who was active in that area. Initially a painter of family records, Smith made the first of these about 1826, for Robert Davis of South Limington, Maine, related by marriage to his brother, Alexander. A second was for his own family.
The son of John and Elizabeth Smith, he was baptized in Buxton on December 14, 1801. In 1820 Buxton's officers appointed a guardian for his father, declaring him a spendthrift. About eight months later Elizabeth and her children moved to Limington. From then until October 1825, when he moved back to Buxton, Smith's health was poor and he was put under the care of his brother. He spent the years that followed as an itinerant painter traveling through the nearby towns. In 1838 he purchased a house in Gorham and there, on November 30, 1840, married Roxana Gowen of Shapleigh, Maine. Between 1840 and early 1843 he moved to Bangor, Maine, where the city directory lists him as a carpenter. Directories for 1846 through 1855, however, list him as a painter although there are no known portraits by him after 1837.
Royall Brewster Smith is buried in Bangor's Mount Hope Cemetery. His obituary indicates that he was "one of our most industrious and reliable mechanics." Had he been active in Bangor as a portrait painter this probably would have been mentioned in his obituary. His description as "mechanic" plus the directories listing as a painter, and the fact that his portraits often include grained furniture and lettering suggest that in the later years he worked at painting signs, furniture, and fire buckets.
See also Painting, American Folk.
ARTHUR AND SYBIL KERN
is the only one of a dozen or so painters in seventeenth-century Boston for whom specific works can be identified with the artist. Distinguished as the painter of the earliest surviving self-portrait, Smith also portrayed members of his family, the military, and the merchant elite in Boston. His known works are six paintings, plus two others, lost or destroyed.
While the contemporary Freake-Gibbes-Mason Limner painted in a flat, linear style, Thomas Smith introduced light and shadow to set the faces and forms he painted convincingly in space. Smith's most famous work, his Self-Portrait, demonstrates a level of realism that was also new in Puritan portraiture, for he represented his age in his graying hair, heavy-set eyes, and lined, sagging flesh.
Smith included symbols and vignettes to convey biographical and sometimes allegorical messages. For example, his self-portrait contains a skull and a me-mento mori poem on the table in the foreground, and a naval battle scene in a window, perhaps a clue that he may have been a seaman. Smith's portrait of Major Thomas Savage includes a vignette that represents his role as a military leader in Boston, and Thomas Patteshall's portrait includes a seascape that identifies him as a prominent merchant.
Smith is primarily known by his paintings. The self-portrait is inscribed in monogram "TS" and the portrait of Thomas Savage is dated 1679. The others are attributed to Smith and given approximate dates based on those two benchmarks. Smith is also documented in the records of Harvard College for a payment made to him on June 2, 1680 for painting a copy of a portrait of the Puritan minister William Ames.
According to the Boston diarist Samuel Sewall, a Captain Thomas Smith died in that city November 8, 1688, and an inventory of his estate was made in 1691. While it is tempting to identify this Captain Smith with the mariner-artist, there were perhaps fourteen men who shared this name in seventeenth-century Boston, and several of those had careers as seamen.