Frederic M. Bell-Smith

“…Our country is ripe for the development of a distinctly Canadian Art, which if intelligently recognized should result in master-works comparable with those of older Lands.”
– Bell-Smith in a 1905 letter to His Excellency the Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada

Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith was a well-known painter, working in watercolour and oil. He was the first Canadian to be granted a personal sitting by Queen Victoria, resulting in Queen Victoria (1895).

Bell-Smith was born in London, England. He trained at the South Kensington School of Art, and with his father John Bell-Smith, a portrait painter. F. M. Bell-Smith immigrated to Montreal, Canada in 1867, following his father who had settled there the year prior. 

In Montreal, Bell-Smith found work as a photo retoucher. In 1871, he married and relocated to Hamilton, Ontario, where he again worked in a photographer’s studio and as a freelance illustrator. Bell-Smith and his wife would briefly relocate to Toronto, where he taught at the Ontario School of Art, after which they returned to Hamilton. At this time, he exhibited mostly watercolours like Montreal from St. Helen’s Island (1874). After 1877, he also painted in oil.

In 1881, Bell-Smith moved to London, Ontario, where he was an art instructor in public schools and at Alma College. From 1887, with free passes from the Canadian Pacific Railway, Bell-Smith painted in the Canadian Rockies. He was awestruck by the mountains and would return to western Canada throughout his remaining years to paint works like Mists and Glaciers of the Selkirks (1911). 

Bell-Smith was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1886. 

Photography: M.O. Hammond Collection, National Gallery of Canada Archives