Saturday, May 16, 2015

Antonio Smith

River Cachapoal
oil on canvas
146 x 100 cm
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile

Miguel Antonio Smith Irisarri, better known as Antonio Smith (1832-1877) was a Chilean landscape painter, engraver, caricaturist and art teacher. His father was a native of Scotland and served as the consul in Santiago.

His family wanted him to be a lawyer. In 1849, his family allowed him to study at the new "Academia de Pintura" founded by President Manuel Bulnes. The school tried to instill the Academic style in its students, though he wanted to paint landscapes instead of mythological subjects. So, in 1851, he left the school to paint on his own. A year later, unsuccessful, he enlisted in a squadron of mounted grenadiers. He was stationed in Chillan, and abandoned his military career at the end of his five-year enlistment. On his return to Santiago, he became an employee of a savings bank. After only a year, he quit and became an illustrator for the political daily El Correo Literario, which was critical of the Conservative Republic. He created a huge number of portrait caricatures of notable people.

The failure of the Revolution of 1859 forced him to emigrate. He decided to go to France and, after a short time, became reasonably successful. However, the Bohemian lifestyle he had adopted caused him to squander his money, so he had to go to the United States to seek financial assistance from his grandfather, who at that time was a diplomat in New York. He then went to Italy, where he spent a year working with a landscape painter. After that, he decided to return to Chile, despite the dangers involved in sea travel during the Chincha Islands War. In 1866, following a difficult six-month voyage, he landed at San Antonio and joined a group of firefighters from Santiago, although he did not remain with them for long.

Serious cultural reforms were sweeping the country, but he was amazed to see how little had changed at the Academy. So he established his own teaching workshop, later on sharing students with the Academy. Some of his best-known students include Alfredo Valenzuela Puelma, Pedro Lira, Alberto Orrego Luco, Onofre Jarpa and Cosme San Martin.