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The Caroline Skeel Archives Reading Room

James Smetham (1821-1889), after an unfulfilling apprenticeship to an architect, trained at the Royal Academy. Between 1851 and 1869 he exhibited at the Royal Academy, Society of British artists and British Institution, creating works in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition. He met John Ruskin (1819-1900) in 1854, art critic, and received positive encouragement. He became friends with other Pre-Raphaelites, Ford Madox Brown, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Among his notable works were, Self Portrait 1844, Naboth in the Vineyard 1856 and The Dream 1856.

Smetham was also an avid writer and critic, publishing articles on contemporaries such as William Blake, John Linnell and John Constable.  From 1847, he developed a writing style called ‘monumentalism’, outpouring his feelings, thoughts and ideas for pictures in journals. He wrote letters to friends such as William Davies which he called ‘ventilators’, openly expressing his emotions. Smetham’s mental health gradually deteriorated over many years, and efforts from his friends and family to cure his depressive tendencies were in vane. He experienced a breakdown in 1877, becoming withdrawn, depressed and delusional, and never recovered.

See more examples from his Smetham's archives in Madness, Poverty and Genius Gallery.

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