"For about two years I really tried to paint in an abstract fashion, but it wasn't me. It just wasn't myself. You see, I love nature to a passionate degree, and I respond. The very idea of painting without being inspired by nature means nothing to me; it's nature which is the springboard for my imagination. I don't mean that I want to be a slave to it, but it's nature that gives me the ideas, and if I don't respond to it spontaneously what I do is worth nothing."
(Jori Smith, c. 1974)
Jori Smith was a painter, watercolourist, draughtswoman and muralist, and a central figure in the Montreal art scene of the 1930s. A founding member of the Eastern Group of Painters and Contemporary Arts Society, Smith is best known for her portraits created while living in the Charlevoix region of Quebec. With an acute, compassionate eye, she captured character and mood in portraits that are remarkable for their lack of sentimentality, as well as their spontaneous execution. Smith also created nudes, still lifes and landscapes.
Marjorie Smith was fifteen years old in 1922 when she enrolled at the Art Association of Montreal, taking classes from Randolph Hewton. When the school closed three months later, she entered the École des Beaux-Arts, and over the course of five years there, garnered numerous prizes. She attended the Monument National concurrently, and would later study with Edwin Holgate.
It was in 1930 that Smith and her husband Jean Palardy went on their first painting trip to the Charlevoix region. Over the next decade, they spent long periods in the area, renting a house for two years, boarding with various families, and eventually buying their own summer house in Petite-Rivière-Saint-François. For two summers, they traveled around the region with the ethnographer Marius Barbeau, assisting him in his study of the Charlevoix culture. Immersed in the rural community, Smith drew great inspiration from the people she came to know. At the same time, she opened her door constantly, both in the Charlevoix and in Montreal, to many artists and intellectuals, including her closest friends Jean Paul Lemieux, Marian Scott and John Lyman, as well as Goodridge Roberts and Alfred Pellan.
In 1934, Smith embarked with Palardy on the first of many trips to Europe, traveling to France, Spain and England, where she took an interest in contemporary British artists. On such trips abroad, she produced numerous landscapes in pen and ink, watercolour and oil. In 1937, she held her first solo exhibition at Toronto's Picture Loan Society; by then she was already signing her work Jori Smith. Two decades later, Smith withdrew from the exhibition scene following her separation from Palardy, and spent increasing periods of time traveling. She re-emerged in 1976 and continued to paint every day, even in her nineties.
Jori Smith was always greatly inspired by the work of Bonnard. Her earliest work, such as Nude (1937), already shows a modernist approach, with a somewhat subdued palette. Under Pellan's influence, she moved towards brighter colours, as evident in The Communicant (1944).
Smith was awarded the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts' Jessie Dow Prize (1955) and la Médaille de l'Assemblée nationale du Québec (2001). She was a member of the Order of Canada (2002).