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Robert Borlase Smart (1881-1947)
Borlase Smart (1881-1947) was a greatly respected marine landscape painter, and also produced a wide variety of accomplished industrial and architectural drawings. He had immense energy and enthusiasm and was the main driving force of the artists colony in the years between the wars, helping to promote St Ives artists all over the country. In 1934 he published ‘The Technique of Seascape Painting’, widely regarded as being the standard work on the subject.
Smart came to St Ives in 1913 to study under the country’s leading seascape painter, Julius Olsson, who had started a school of painting in Studio 5 in 1895. During World War 1 he served as a captain in the Artists Rifles, where he met with fellow artist Leonard Fuller, who was later to establish the St Ives School of Painting. After the war, Smart settled in St Ives and was based Porthmeor from 1924 until his death in 1947.
Borlase Smart immersed himself in the life of St Ives, serving on the Town Council, as leader of the Sea Scouts and serving in the Home Guard. His presence was most keenly felt in the artistic life of the community, and he worked tirelessly and enthusiastically to maintain its momentum between the wars. He was on the committee of the St Ives Society of Artists from 1929 until the end of his life, organising regular touring shows throughout the country to help promote local artists. In 1933 he was made a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd for services to art.
He played a major role in organising the St Ives Society of Artists shows in Porthmeor Studios 4 and 5. His stated intent to ‘like the best in both traditional and advanced art’ led him to champion the modernists, and he is perhaps now best remembered for his support and promotion of younger artists, inviting Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Peter Lanyon to exhibit alongside himself in his Porthmeor Studio. He also arranged for them to join the St Ives Society of Artists, a move which was widely criticised by some of its more traditional artists. Following his death in 1947, the splits between traditionalists and modernists widened, and resulted in many of the younger artists leaving to form the Penwith Society of Arts.