Walter Granville Smith

American, 1870 - 1938
Walter Granville-Smith’s In the Surf, Southampton not only demonstrates the artist’s mature artistic style but also serves as a fine example of Smith’s best known and most successful work. Smith earned renown for his genre paintings that often depicted women and children partaking in such leisure activities as those seen In the Surf. This choice of subject and the way the artist rendered it in an impressionistic style was very much in keeping with the dominant modes of artistic practice at the time; additionally, these works also spoke to a growing interest in the idea and picturing of leisure. As the American middle class grew and looked to Europe, namely France, for its cultural trends, images of repose, relaxation, and play grew in popularity. They became symbols of refinement, even luxury, to a group that valued hard work but had the means to escape it when they pleased. As did so many artists working in the early twentieth century, Smith responded in kind to the demand for these paintings by creating charming scenes with both realism and impressionism firmly in mind.

In the Surf displays the artist’s unique handling of his medium. The soft palette and loose brushwork certainly speak to the influence of impressionism, yet there’s no mistaking the artist’s interest in realism, particularly in his sure handling of the figures. Smith studied at the Art Students League in New York City under Walter Satterlee, Caroll Beckwith, and Willard Metcalf – he took bits and pieces of all three artists’ style and ultimately developed his own. Both Satterlee and Beckwith were primarily genre painters and from them Smith learned how to capture expression and gesture. Metcalf became one of the great American impressionist landscape painters, so from him Smith clearly learned how to paint atmosphere and place infused with mood.

After his time at the Art Students league, Smith traveled to Europe and eventually enrolled in the Academie Julian in Paris. Upon his return to New York, he set up a studio and painted mainly academic paintings for a while. Following this style, he won his first prize at the National Academy of Design in 1900, a gold medal there in 1908, and was elected an academician in 1915. In addition to his creation of fine art, Smith also contributed well-painted illustrations to Harper’s Magazine, Scribner’s, and other leading publications of the early twentieth century.

Smith’s work is part of the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, Butler Art Institute, Toledo Museum (Ohio), Salmagundi Club, the National Academy of Design, and the Philadelphia Art Club.
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