The son of a gardener to a member of the Gilpin family, Smith benefited from their patronage and later from the support of the Earl of Warwick, a keen antiquarian, who paid him to go to Italy. Prior to his departure Smith was much influenced by Cozens, and employed the traditional tinted method. When he reached Rome in 1776 he fell in with the coterie of English artists there, notably Pars and Towne. Under their influence he began to work in a richer vein and in some drawings emulated Towne’s vigorous pen-work without quite matching Towne’s sculptural qualities. He was admired as an innovator on his return to England, for abandoning monochrome underpainting, applying washes of direct colour and painting in shadows last. The reality however, is that he was always capable of reverting to earlier methods, using delicately coloured washes for some Derbyshire views and reserving a stronger palette for a series of scenes in Wales. In 1806 he became a full member of the OWCS and a stalwart supporter after its reconstruction in 1813. The range of his British tours is not fully documented, though surviving drawings suggest visits to Wales, Derbyshire, The Lakes, Scotland and Devon, as well as further afield to the Isle of Man.
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