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Telephone: 0131 226 6932 or 0845 388 5879
46 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 3NH, Scotland

Biography and current catalogue for

David Murray Smith RBA RWS (1865-1952) 

Murray Smith was born in Edinburgh on 4th July 1865. He came from a literary family, his father David Murray Smith being a writer and journalist, and his uncle Alexander Smith (1830-67), a poet and essayist of some repute. Murray Smith was educated at George Watson's College, in Edinburgh, then Edinburgh School of Art and finally at the Royal Scottish Academy School of painting.

In 1895, at the age of 30, he left Edinburgh and moved to London. In 1905, he was elected a member of the Royal Society of British Artists, the Studio magazine commenting "….his contributions being amongst the best things to be seen upon the walls of the exhibitions in Suffolk Street." In this early part of his career, he produced some important works in oil and in addition revealed a talent for printmaking, producing some fine landscape plates and views of London. They are more illustrative than his paintings and watercolours, but they do display sound draughtsmanship and a clear command of the medium. From 1909-1936, Murray Smith exhibited at the Royal Academy (20 works) and indeed was a prolific artist, exhibiting regularly and widely; 188 works at the Royal Society of British Artists and 199 works at the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours. His work did not go unnoticed and he was the subject of several favourable articles in The Studio and other magazines such as The Queen and Colour.

In 1916, Murray Smith was elected Associate of the Royal Watercolour Society. Having first made his mark with several excellent oil paintings, it soon became clear that in the medium of watercolour, he had found his true expression.

Murray Smith viewed landscape as both monumental and transient; his watercolours especially, usually depict a vast sky, underneath which is a narrow strip of land and perhaps hills in the distance. In his most successful work, he manages to reconcile the changing nature of the sky with the solidity of the land and create a pictorial unity from these two elements. In looking at his paintings, one is not aware of any conflict; rather a sense of peace and calm permeates his work. This is all the more remarkable when we realise he lived through two World Wars; his vision remained pure, giving no sense of the troubled times that produced them. It is as if he turned his back on the chaos and destruction of his time and tried to portray a better world. Taking his cue from Millet or Corot (evidenced in his lyrical love of trees), we have vast skies, solemn bridges, hills or cliff-faces, imbued with that same power. Murray Smith chooses not to include human figures in his landscapes, however there is evidence of their constructions; houses, buildings, bridges, carts, haystacks even, but not the relationship of people to the land as found in Millet's work.

He admired the great Impressionists and experimented with some of their techniques, but his art was more in sympathy with the ideals and standards of the Great Masters of the past, and he naturally responded to the quiet harmonies of the late nineteenth century.
There is a Dutch influence in his work; we see traces of those early masters of landscape, Philips de Koninck, Hercules Seeghers and Jacob Ruysdael. He also studied the work of David Cox, Peter de Wint and the Barbizon School, in particular. There are similarities also, in some of his oils, with the work of his friend and compatriot, D.Y. Cameron (1865-1945).
He has a fondness for low tones and subtle harmonies and a restrained use of colour. Rather than imitation of what he sees before him, Murray Smith's works are poetic meditations on landscape.

Around 1924, he and his wife, Katie Hogg, moved out to Long Crendon, into the undulating countryside of Buckinghamshire, which was so often the subject of his paintings. They later moved to Surrey, initially Gomshall, then Abinger Hammer, both near Dorking. Despite Murray Smith's regular trips to Scotland, visits to Italy, and Wales also being a favourite painting location, he and his wife remained settled in the south of England. In 1933 he was elected RWS. During his lifetime, his pictures were purchased by many public galleries at home and abroad, namely those of Bury, Harrogate, Manchester, Newcastle, Plymouth, Preston, Southport, Wednesbury, Worthing, The National Gallery of Wales, The National Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, The Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Harvard University, and the Art Gallery of Toronto.

The Calton Gallery held an exhibition of his work, during the Edinburgh Festival in 1991.