Two years after enrolling at the Slade School, Smith left London for the continent, arriving at Pont-Aven, Brittany in 1908 and sparking a period of exciting artistic development for the young artist. Moving to Paris, he soaked up the rich visual culture of what was then the center of the art world, capturing the tail-end of the Fauvist revolution. Here Smith saw some of finest works by Henri Matisse on the walls of Gertrude Stein’s apartment, which hosted an ‘open-house’ every Saturday evening, and attended classes with the master of colour himself at his short-lived Atelier Matisse. Here Smith was exposed to Fauvism in all its glory, as well as to the work of the Nabis, at a time when the Post-Impressionists were still not widely known in Britain (and indeed it was not until Roger Fry’s groundbreaking exhibition at the New Grafton Gallery in 1910 that London was exposed to their work).
With the onset of war, Smith returned home to Britain, and before being called-up to serve on the Western front, explored the gently rolling hills of the picturesque South West. Visiting Cornwall for the first time in 1914 (and returning to nearby Devon two years later with Walter Sickert and his family), Smith was drawn to the rich, Gauguinesque colours of his surroundings, at once so reminiscent of all that he had experienced across the Channel. Here the landscape captured the artist’s imagination so much so that upon his return from the horrors of Passchendaele, he turned his attention to the place once more, to create a series of works that form one of the most important and engaging aspects within his oeuvre, of which the present work is undoubtedly one of the finest examples. Inspired by his introduction to the Irish artist Roderic O’Conor in 1919, a close friend to Gaugin and a central figure within the Pont-Aven school, Smith now turned his attention to his surrounding landscape, moving his family to St Columb Major in Cornwall. Here he created a series of beautiful and haunting landscapes, with deep brooding colours that display well the still-fresh pain and anxiety that the artist (and indeed most young men of the period) felt in the wake of the worst disaster the world had known. In The Wet Road the deep, dark crimsons and inky purple skies replace all the naïve optimism of his early Fauvist influences yet retain the flat, bold planes of colour, divided by the winding, deserted road. Here we get a sense of the isolation that the artist felt at this stage of his life, torn between everything that had come before but faced now with new challenges of pictorial representation in the Post-War age.
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