Biography of Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith 

FM Bell Smith Low Tide Bay of Fundy Unframed

Born in England in 1846 and immigrating to Canada in 1867, the year of confederation, Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith was a key figure in the history of Canadian art. He was the only Canadian that was given the privilege of a sitting with Queen Victoria in order to paint her portrait. He gained fame throughout the country for this painting.

Bell-Smith was the son of another early Canadian artist, John Bell-Smith, a respected painter of miniature portraits. Both father and son were instrumental in founding the Society of Canadian Artists in Montreal, Frederic was also named a founding member of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1872, and was named an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy upon its formation in 1880. Bell-Smith was very active in the arts and in the community of artists.

His first exhibition of watercolours was in 1868.  Bell-Smith first visited the Rocky Mountains in 1887 under a promotional programme designed by the President of the Canadian Pacific Railway, William Van Horne. Along with the photographer William Notman Jr., and the painter Lucius O'Brien, Bell-Smith was among the first to take advantage of the offer for free transport across Canada. Van Horne’s idea was to promote tourism and travel to both coasts of Canada by showing Canadians the grandeur of the land in paintings produced by these artists.

Bell-Smith was the art director as well as the drawing master at London’s Central School. He founded the Western Art League, travelled throughout Europe and North America on sketching trips. He also studied under some of the most influential artists of the day including Benjamin-Constant, Gustave Courtois, Joseph Blanc, and Edmond-Louis Dupain.

Bell-Smith's interest in depicting historically important subjects and events of international importance led him to create a series of paintings. In 1894 John Thompson, the prime minister of Canada, died suddenly at Windsor Castle. His body was returned to Canada in one of the finest ships of the day, the Blenheim. This sad event inspired Bell-Smith to paint The Arrival of the Blenheim at Halifax, completed in 1897 as well as The Queen's Tribute to Canada portrayed Queen Victoria placing a bouquet of flowers on Thompson's coffin within Windsor Castle as well as a painting called The State Funeral at Halifax. In 1897 Bell-Smith also sailed to England to paint the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. He produced one large-scale painting as well as several watercolours.

Bell-Smith had a true love for all subjects. He is known as the painter of the rocky mountains, but he also love to paint the ocean shorelines such as in our paintings as well as scenes of the city. His most famous being Lights of a city street, painted in 1894. This crisp, detailed depiction of the corner of King and Yonge in Toronto after the rain captured a moment of urban life, with its streetcars, newsboys, policemen, and well-dressed crowds.

Bell-Smith was a regular contributor to many exhibitions in Canada including: the Ontario Society of Artists, the Art Association of Montreal, The Royal Canadian Academy (in the second year of the exhibit he was awarded the Governor-General's Gold Medal), the World's Colombian Exhibition in Chicago, the Toronto Industrial Exhibition and the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York

He spent his last years painting at the Bon Echo, his country home on Mazinaw Lake, Ontario. He died on June 23rd,1923    

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