My Favourite Painting: Henry Wyndham

Nude, Fitzroy Street, No 1 (1916) by Matthew Smith (1879–1959), 34in by 30in, Tate Collection

Henry Wyndham says:
‘To choose my favourite painting is an impossible task as there are so many possibilities, but the painting I have selected is one that I have loved and admired for more than 40 years. This is Matthew Smith at the top of his game, painted in 1916 when he was a young man greatly influenced by Matisse. I love the vibrancy of the colours, a beautiful bottle green against the mass of reds and the female form highlighted with dashes of blue. It’s a wonderful piece of painting with lovely textures, not to mention the rather provocative and saucy pose of the female figure. Like all the best art, it lifts the spirit.’

Henry Wyndham is Sotheby’s Senior auctioneer and European Chairman.

John McEwen comments:
‘Francis Bacon wrote the catalogue introduction for Matthew Smith’s 1953 Tate retrospective: ‘He seems to me to be one of the very few English painters since Constable and Turner to be concerned with painting—that is, with attempting to make idea and technique inseparable… Hence the brush-stroke creates the form and does not merely fill it in.’

The Smiths were a Halifax family, Matthew’s father a successful industrialist. The myopic Matthew was sent to boarding school, which he hated. He eventually persuaded his father to let him have his way and go to art school, and duly qualified for the Slade. In old age, he said: ‘Every father should die when his son reaches sixteen.’ His father’s death, in 1914, left Smith financially secure for life.

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The highpoint of his formative artistic years was a brief spell attending the Atelier Matisse in Paris. Matisse, only an occasional visitor, was a stickler for drawing from casts and the nude model. He once reproached a student for making a passionless and unrecognisable painting of a beautiful girl: ‘Et vous un jeune homme!’ Smith was delighted; for all his frail, shy and conventional demeanour, his art and turbulent love life show that he never lacked passion. This nude was done when he was a London neighbour of Sickert, who praised him for being ‘as good at drawing as he was with colour, and as good a colourist as he was a draughtsman’. Smith was first publicly acclaimed in the 1930s and knighted in 1954. He is a central character in the late William Douglas- Home’s play Portraits.’

This article was first published in Country Life, January 8, 2014