Media File
James Smetham
Date: English painter, printmaker, and writer, 1821–1889
Biography: James Smetham (1821-1889), born in Yorkshire, was originally apprenticed to be an architect before deciding on a career as an artist. He studied at the Royal Academy in London beginning in 1843. Having only modest success as a portrait painter he took up a teaching position at the Weslyan Normal College in Westminster in 1854. He was closely associated with the English Pre-Raphaelite circle, in particularly Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Although he painted in a variety of subjects – religious, literature, and portraits – he is probably best known for his visionary landscapes, inspired by the work of William Blake, John Linnell, and Samuel Palmer. Smetham was a devout Methodist, which developed after a mental breakdown in 1857 into a kind of religious mania. He developed a bizarre method of creating miniature sized pen and ink drawings in a grid which he called ‘squaring.’ He was also a writer, and published an important essay on William Blake which raised Blake’s importance in the artistic world. He kept numerous journals and notebooks filled with a kind of stream-of-consciousness writing which he called ‘ventilating.’