”Smart people don’t look for meaning.”
Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013) was an expatriate Australian painter known for his precisionist depictions of urban landscapes that are full of private jokes and playful allusions.
He died in Arrezzo, Italy, at 91-years-old, with his partner of more than 30 years, Ermes De Zan, at his side.
Born in Adelaide, Smart was known for his post-industrial paintings of everyday life. He trained at the South Australian School of Art and bravely came out of the closet in the early 1940s. He traveled to Europe after WW II, where he studied in Paris. Smart returned to Australia in 1951 to work as an art critic for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, and as a television presenter for the Australian Broadcasting Company and teacher at the National Art School in Sydney.
As an openly gay man, Smart’s career prospects were problematic in the masculine world of expressionist Australian art in the early 1960s, and so in 1964, at 43-years-old, he left Australia permanently for Italy where he lived with his partner in Arezzo where he painted for the rest of his long life.
Alfred Hitchcock-like, Smart added himself to many of his works in offhand situations.
His works can be very sly. His painting titled The Conversation turns out to show not an informal soiree, but drivers standing chatting at a rest stop; and the painting is actually about the brilliant red gigantic truck behind them.
Smart was a prodigious, prolific artist with more than 50 solo shows in Australia beginning in 1957, and in group exhibitions in London at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1961 and at The Tate in 1963. His work can now be found at The Louvre, National Gallery of Victoria, MoMa, Metropolitan Museum of Art, TarraWarra Museum of Art, De Beers Collection of Contemporary Art in London, and many private collections.
Erica Green, director of the Samstag Museum of Art at the University of South Australia, where Smart trained between 1937-1941, writes:
“He has made a truly significant contribution to Australian art and to understanding how we view our urban landscape. That’s really Jeffrey’s legacy. He was a larger than life character, and he was loved by many people. He was an absolute gentleman, very gregarious, charming, a great host.”
Smart worked with oils, acrylic and watercolors, generally using primary colors of yellow, blue and red with dark greys for his skies. This created an unusual effect in his works, with fully-lit foregrounds despite dark skies. His paintings have a patina of realism but are imbued with melancholy.
Smart’s memoir, Not Quite Straight, was published in 1996.
Following his death in Tuscany, the University of South Australia named its newest building The Jeffrey Smart Building.
Self Portrait at Papini’s (1985) (above) sold at world record price for a Smart: $1,260,000 at auction in 2014.