Asleep and Awake
Oil on panel, signed and dated 1863
6.25 x 5.75 inches panel size
7.25 x 6.75 inches framed size
Original exhibition and artist labels included verso
ARTIST BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS
ASLEEP AND AWAKE, 1863
OIL ON PANEL
6.25 x 5.75 INCHES
James Smetham was a painter of portraits, imaginative landscapes, literary, poetical and biblical subjects; etcher, essayist. The son of a Wesleyan minister, he remained a devout follower of the sect throughout his life.
Smetham began as a portrait painter in Shropshire before moving to London in 1843 to study at the RA schools. The advent of commercial photography had a profound impact on his livelihood, and as a result in 1851 Smetham found work as drawing master at the Wesleyan Normal College, Westmister.
He exhibited at the RA an delsewhere from 1851-1876. Increasingly torn between painting and literature, the last twelve years of his life were overshadowed by his madness, compounded by religious melancholia and a sense of failure and disappointment. After 1869 he no longer was able to exhibit his work.
He was a close friend of both Russell and Rosetti, both of whom held his work in high esteem. However, he never attained a reputation beyond his small circle during his lifetime. He passed through a phase of Pre-Raphaelitism in the 1850s, his painting Naboth’s Vineyard (1856) resulted from this period, and can be seen in the Tate collection. Later, in the 1860s his close friendship with Rosetti was reflected in his work.
He is also noted for his writing, most notably his essay on Blake, which was one of the first to recognise Blake’s true importance, and was first published in Litaerary Review in 1868.