It’s weird, because I was only thinking about the West Country Artist Borlase Smart a couple of days before the announcement of this book came through. His book, The Technique of Seascape Painting was still in demand when I started selling art books some 30 years ago.
Little was previously known about Smart. He has no Wikipedia entry and even the Borlase Smart-John Wells Trust has scant information (at least on its website).
Marion Whybrow has collected an impressive amount of Smart’s work, all of it superbly reproduced, as well as a wealth of information about his life. This turns out to have been a simple process: his family had it all the time. This is not to say, though, that the way she has approached both her subject and the archive is anything other than a masterclass in biographical presentation.
The strapline “man of vision” is apt. Although seascapes make up the bulk of the works illustrated, it is also clear that Smart was capable of turning his hand to almost any subject, including landscapes, buildings and people, often in a slightly expressionist style that was typical of his time (the first half of the twentieth century). He also had a keen eye for design and his town map of St Ives and some of his posters for the Great Western Railway are included here.
St Ives produced or collected a great number of superb artists and it is perhaps inevitable that it is only the really big names that are regularly remembered today. However, it is clear from this book that, if anyone was going to be rescued from obscurity, it should be Borlase Smart. Memories are short, artefacts get dispersed, and I can’t help thinking that, if Marion Whybrow hadn’t come along now, it might have been too late.