Mary Russell Smith Biography


                Mary Russell Smith was born at Edgehill, close to Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. She was a true lover of nature and all the things of nature, wandering the fields and woods near her childhood home, gathering objects that caught her eye. Smith had much influence to become an an artist because all in her family were painters. Her father, Russell, was a well-known landscapist, her mother a painter of flowers, and her brother Xanthus, a marine painter, was also well-known.
She attended no art schools, and started to paint at age fourteen, when she was taught by her mother.
When she died in 1878 at age 36, her father summed up the inspiration nature held for Smith, and her love of it, in “A Brief Sketch of the Life of Mary Smith, the Painter.” “Such habits early in life no doubt laid the foundation of that strong love of nature that was more a passion than a predilection, and remained the ruling principle of her life and art.”
As a child, she had enjoyed tending her flock of chickens, and these birds were often represented in her paintings. Chicks and chickens appear in “Picking Cherries,” for example. The browns, reds and yellows in the painting are characteristic of her rich, warm color.
Smith never married. She looked after the family home when her mother died in 1874.
In 1876, Smith exhibited at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia. She had often exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts between 1859 and 1869, and the National Academy of Design exhibited two paintings in 1868.
Smith helped other women artists in Philadelphia for nearly a century after her death by bequeathing monies from sales of her work. In the student exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Mary Smith Prize was given yearly, until 1969, to a woman for her outstanding work.
Mary Smith’s paintings are in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and the Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania.
                Best known for her small genre paintings of chickens and barnyard scenes, Mary Russell Smith was a member of a distinguished family of American artists-the daughter of Russell and Mary Priscilla Wilson Smith, and the sister of Xanthus Smith.
She was born at the family’s rural home, Rockhill, a few miles north of Philadelphia, and settled at their next estate, Edgehill, in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, for the rest of her life. Her mother, a noted flower and still-life painter, trained her at home, and Mary produced her first work at the age of fourteen. She quickly became an accomplished artist, showing her paintings at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts annual exhibitions from 1859 to 1869, and again in 1876 and 1878. In her short career, she painted over three hundred paintings, which she carefully detailed in her “Account of Work Done by Mary Smith, Artist.” (Collection of the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.)
In his famous critical volume, “Book of the Artists” (1867), Henry Tuckerman remarked that Mary Smith’s work was “remarkable for grace, fidelity, and skill in the delineation of the feathered tribe-her special branch.” At the Edgehill estate, she raised and nurtured the beloved chickens she portrayed from nature, often incorporating landscape or still-life elements, as in this small table-top composition of a chick and a lovely bouquet of flowers-all painted in rich and delicate tones and textures.
Biography from AskArt
Oil painting by Mary Russell Smith of chicks

Mary Russell Smith Chicks

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