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Artist Biography

 Xanthus Smith was born in Philadelphia to the artists Russell and Mary Priscilla Smith. He began his training with his parents before attending drawing classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. He studied abroad at the Royal Academy in London, but soon returned home to enlist in the Union Navy. During the Civil War Smith earned a reputation as a painter of important naval battles.

After the war he focused on genre, marine, and landscape paintings; ultimately turning his interests to photography. His writings on the subject and its bearings on art were well received at home and abroad. When not working on large-scale commissions, Smith’s style tended towards the small and precise—most of his naval drawings and paintings measured just over a foot on each side—which is one of the reasons photographic exactitude appealed to him. His mother, Mary Priscilla, was a watercolorist known for her elegant floral painting, and her influence is echoed in his carefully rendered work. Truly a sensitive artist, Smith was as adept in capturing the intimacy of a small corner of the forest as he was the drama of a naval engagement.

Smith spent many of his summers in Casco Bay, Maine, and often painted in and around Mt. Desert Island. His winters were spent at his family home, Edgehill, near Philadelphia, where he died in 1929.

His paintings were displayed often at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (1856-1887); the Vose Galleries of Boston held a one-man exhibition of his work in 1979. Among the museums that own works of Smith’s are the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery, Reading, PA; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE; Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, VA; and the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, MD.


Michael Kammen, Meadows of Memory: Images of Time and Tradition in American Art and Culture (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992)

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art (Secaucus, NJ: Wellfleet Press, 1987)