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Mary, Xanthus, and Russell Smith family papers, 1793-1977, bulk 1826-1977

Mary, Xanthus, and Russell Smith family papers, 1793-1977, bulk 1826-1977

Smith, Mary Russell, 1842-1878

Painter

Collection Information

Size: 5.1 linear feet

Summary: Correspondence, writings, artwork, financial records, printed material, miscellaneous items and photographs provide documentation of the lives and works of painter, illustrator and poet, Russell Smith, and his son, painter Xanthus Smith, and scattered documentation of the lives of his wife, painter and educator Mary Priscilla Smith, and daughter and painter Mary Russell Smith.

Biographical/Historical Note

Mary, Xanthus, and Russell Smith were a family of artists in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. Russell Smith (1812-1896) was a native of Glasgow, Scotland whose family came to the United States in 1819 and settled near Pittsburgh. Russell Smith married Mary Priscilla Wilson, a flower painter and teacher of French and drawing, in 1838. Mary Priscilla Smith (1819-1874) studied at a female seminary in Germantown, Pennsylvania operated by noted educator William Russell (Russell Smith's uncle) in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and at Charles Picot's school in Philadelphia. After becoming a mother, she painted very little but taught her children, Xanthus and Mary, to draw and paint. Xanthus Smith (1839-1929) was born in Philadelphia. Mary Russell Smith (1842-1878) was born near Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.

Provenance

Donated 1978-1979 by Franklin R. Smith, a descendant of Smith.

A Finding Aid to the Russell, Xanthus, and Mary Smith Family Papers,
1793-1977,
bulk 1826-1977
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.smitfami
Author
Finding aid prepared by Catherine S. Gaines
Biographical Note
Russell Smith (1812-1896) was a native of Glasgow, Scotland whose family came to the United States in 1819 and settled near Pittsburgh. The Smith children were educated at home, and Russell showed an early interest in art. His first formal training in portraiture and landscape painting was in Pittsburgh under James Reid Lambdin. Around 1827, Smith began painting backdrops for theaters and within 6 years had achieved a national reputation for his theatrical painting. In 1835 he moved to Philadelphia to paint for the Walnut Street Theater, and soon received commissions to paint for theaters in Boston and Washington. Around this time, he also began writing poetry. Even while engaged in theatrical work, Smith continued to paint landscapes which were exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Artists' Fund Society of Philadelphia as early as 1834.
Russell Smith married Mary Priscilla Wilson, a flower painter and teacher of French and drawing, in 1838. By the 1840s, in addition to painting landscapes and theatrical backdrops, Smith was advertising his services as an "illustrator for lectures on various branches of natural science painted in distemper." He accompanied the scientific expeditions of geologists William Barton Rogers and Henry Darwin Rogers to Virginia and the Susquehanna and Juniata River valleys of Pennsylvania in 1844 and 1845 as an illustrator. During this period, Smith also traveled extensively in New Hampshire and upstate New York for summer painting expeditions. The Smiths traveled to Europe with their two children in 1851-1852, touring Wales, Scotland, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, London, and Paris. Smith visited major museums and private collections, as well as architectural attractions, making sketches and keeping detailed notes of the trip.
Smith continued painting landscapes well into old age, even though his long out of fashion works were rejected with increasing frequency by the juries of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He died in 1896.
Born in Milestown, Pennsylvania in 1819, Mary Priscilla Smith (1819-1874) studied at a female seminary in Germantown, Pennsylvania operated by noted educator William Russell (Russell Smith's uncle) in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and at Charles Picot's school in Philadelphia. She eventually became a teacher of French, drawing, and painting at the Picot school, and later taught at a school established by William Russell in Philadelphia.
At her husband's urging, Mary Priscilla Smith, already an accomplished flower painter, began painting figures and landscapes, and participated in exhibitions of the Artists' Fund Society exhibitions. After becoming a mother, she painted very little but taught her children, Xanthus and Mary, to draw and paint. Mary Priscilla Smith died in 1874.
Xanthus Smith (1839-1929) was born in Philadelphia and was educated at home. During the family's European tour of 1851-1852 he saw a wide variety of art and, upon returning home, began painting with enthusiasm. Around 1858 he enrolled in a cast drawing class at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
At the start of the Civil War Xanthus Smith enlisted in the Navy, where he served as clerk to the commander of a flagship guarding Port Royal, South Carolina. He began producing detailed drawings of the ships both for official purposes and his own enjoyment. After the war, he continued painting ships and exhibited many of these paintings at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Further commissions of Civil War subjects followed, and Xanthus Smith was soon recognized as the foremost painter of Civil War naval battle scenes.
In the 1880s, Xanthus Smith began painting European landscapes, probably based on his father's sketches made during their 1851-1852 tour of Europe. By the 1900s, he was concentrating on portraiture and figure subjects, and continued painting well into old age. His final years were spent in an unsuccessful attempt to publish his autobiography, "An Unvarnished Tale." Xanthus Smith died in 1929.
Mary Russell Smith (1842-1878) was born near Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. Her mother provided her with instruction in flower painting and she sketched animals and insects independently. At age fourteen Mary Smith completed her first oil painting and by 1858 had begun compiling a list of her completed pictures. She was encouraged by her parents to pursue a career as a professional artist. From 1859-1869, and in 1876 and 1878, Mary Smith exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She also participated in exhibitions at the National Academy of Design in New York, and in the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia.
From early childhood, Mary Smith enjoyed raising poultry, and chickens became her favorite painting subject. Her paintings of chickens were popular with Philadelphia art collectors, and sought after in England.
Always sickly, Mary Smith died of gastric fever in 1878. At her request, Russell Smith established the Mary Smith Prize, awarded annually by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, for the best painting exhibited by a woman resident of Philadelphia.
Arrangement
The collection is arranged as 6 series:
Series 1: Smith Family Papers, 1793-1977 (Box 1; 0.9 linear ft.)
Series 2: Russell Smith Papers, 1805-1954 (Boxes 1-2; 1.2 linear ft.)
Series 3: Xanthus Smith Papers, 1850-1953 (Boxes 3-4; 1.9 linear ft.)
Series 4: Mary Smith Papers, 1852-1877 (Box 5; 4 folders)
Series 5: Mary Priscilla Smith Papers, 1839-1874 (21 folders)
Series 6: Photographs, circa 1845-1934 (Box 6-7, MGP 3, Black Cabinet; 0.9 linear ft.)
Microfilm reel numbers and frames are referenced at folder headings in parenthesis when known. Glass plate negatives are housed separately and closed to researchers.
Scope and Content Note
The Russell, Xanthus, and Mary Smith family papers comprise 5.1 linear feet and are dated 1793-1977, bulk 1826-1977. Correspondence, writings, artwork, financial records, printed material, miscellaneous items and photographs provide documentation of the lives and works of painter, illustrator and poet, Russell Smith, and his son, painter Xanthus Smith, and scattered documentation of the lives of his wife, painter and educator Mary Priscilla Smith, and daughter and painter Mary Russell Smith.
Family papers include correspondence, writings, printed material, and miscellaneous items. Correspondence, the bulk of which is comprised of letters to and from Russell and Xanthus Smith, covers both personal and professional matters. Among the correspondents are family, friends, colleagues, and arts organizations. Writings, printed material, and miscellaneous items in this series refer either to the entire Smith family or multiple individuals. Miscellaneous items also concern Horace Binder, father-in-law of Xanthus Smith.
The Russell Smith papers are comprised of biographical information, writings, artwork, and financial records. Biographical information includes some personal documents such as passports and marriage certificates. Among Russell Smith's writings are an autobiography, transcripts of correspondence, and notes. Artwork consists of loose pages and sketch books containing sketches and drawings in pencil, ink, and watercolor. His financial records are cash books recording professional and personal expenses, and receipts and memorabilia from the family's 1851-1852 travels in Europe. The printed material consists of loose clippings and a scrapbook of clippings from Philadelphia newspapers, as well as a small number of exhibition catalogs.
The Xanthus Smith papers consist of biographical information, artwork, financial records, and printed material. Among the writings are his unpublished autobiography, biographies of his father and sister, impressions of the Centennial art exhibition, journals, notes, and poems. Artwork consists of loose sketches in pencil and ink, and sketchbooks containing sketches and finished drawings in pencil and ink, some colored with gouache or watercolor washes. Financial records are cash books recording personal and professional expenses. Printed material includes clippings and a scrapbook.
The Mary Smith papers consist of writings, sketches, and printed material. The papers of her mother, Mary Priscilla Smith, are comprised of writings and printed material.
Photographs are of people, artwork, and miscellaneous subjects. People represented are Russell and Mary Priscilla Smith, their children Xanthus and Mary Smith, and several other relatives including Xanthus's wife and Russell's sister, granddaughter, and uncle. Photographs include ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, and tintypes, along with glass negatives and a small number of original prints. Copy prints have been produced from the glass negatives and other cased photographs. Photographs of artwork are of paintings by Russell Smith, Xanthus Smith, and other artists.
Provenance
Donated 1978-1979 by Franklin R. Smith, a descendant of Smith.
Processing Information
The Smith family papers were processed in 1981 and much of the collection was microfilmed on reels 2035-2040 and 2062. The papers were merged, arranged, and described by Catherine S. Gaines in 2006. Glass plate negatives were re-housed in 2015 with a grant provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.

Additional Forms Available

Portions of the collection are available on microfilm reels 2035-2040, and 2062 at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan. The arrangement of the collection as described in this finding aid does not reflect the order of the collection on microfilm.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Mary, Xanthus, and Russell Smith family papers, 1793-1977, bulk 1826-1977. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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