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Edith Smith (1867–1954)

Edith Smith

Edith Smith, The Red Cloak, 1923
Oil on canvas, 45 x 33.5 cm
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax

Edith Smith was born into a family with several artist members, including her brother Lewis (1871–1926), and she forged the longest career of any of them. Her landscape views of Halifax and further afield in rural Nova Scotia were staples of Halifax exhibitions, and her almost forty-year career teaching art at Halifax Ladies’ College ensured that her influence carried on through generations of artists in the city.


Edith Smith, Grain Elevator, Halifax / Cathedral of Industry, c.1939, oil on board, 49.9 x 39.8 cm, Anna Leonowens Gallery Archives, NSCAD University, Halifax.

Smith was in the first class of the new Victoria School of Art and Design (VSAD) and studied under its first headmaster, George Harvey (1846–1910). Smith soon began painting landscapes, a genre that became her primary interest. In 1892, after graduating from VSAD, she spent a year in Boston doing post-graduate studies, and in 1912 she pursued further studies at the Chelsea School of Art in London. She taught briefly at VSAD in 1910, but from 1912 until her retirement in 1950 she served as Art Mistress at Halifax Ladies’ College, a private school now known as Armbrae Academy.


While her career was based in Nova Scotia, she did have contact with two eventual members of the Group of Seven: Arthur Lismer (1885–1969), while he was in Halifax as principal of VSAD, and J.E.H. MacDonald (1873–1932). Her brother Lewis had been a designer at Grip Limited in Toronto and befriended MacDonald, who made trips to Nova Scotia in 1898 and 1922 to visit and paint with the Smith siblings. Edith Smith participated in numerous local exhibitions, including 200 Years of Art in Halifax, an exhibition organized in 1949 to celebrate the city’s bicentennial. She also submitted her works successfully to the annual shows of the Royal Canadian Academy, the Ontario Society of Artists, and the Art Association of Montreal from the 1890s. Along with Lewis (who was, briefly, principal of VSAD), she was a founding member of the Nova Scotia Society of Artists (NSSA) in 1922. She exhibited in every annual show of the NSSA until her death in 1954 and was twice president of the organization (1932–34 and 1941–42). In 1912 she joined the Nova Scotia Museum of Fine Arts (now the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia), eventually serving on the executive committee and as president. She was also a founding member of the Maritime Art Association.


Edith Smith’s work is held in numerous public and private collections, including the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the Dalhousie Art Gallery. In 1990 the Dalhousie Art Gallery mounted the exhibition J.E.H. MacDonald, Lewis Smith and Edith Smith in Nova Scotia, curated by Gemey Kelly.


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