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Thomas Stuart Smith was born in 1815. He was the secret illegitimate nephew of Alexander Smith, who had an estate at Glassingall, Dunblane. Smith's father (Alexander's brother) sent Thomas to a school in France while he conducted his business in Canada and the East Indies. In 1831, Thomas's school fees were not paid and so Thomas thought his father must have died. He returned to England, when he and his uncle learned of each other for the first time. Although they did not meet, Alexander continued to support Thomas financially.

Five Studies of Italian Figures

Five Studies of Italian Figures 1844

Thomas Stuart Smith (1813–1869)

Thomas started working as a tutor. He later became interested in painting from an Italian master painter whom he met while serving as a travelling tutor to a British family. Once again, in 1840, his uncle Alexander supplied funding so that he could travel and paint in Italy.

Interior of San Marco, Venice

Interior of San Marco, Venice 1845

Thomas Stuart Smith (1813–1869)

By the end of the 1840s, Smith had his work accepted by both the Salon des Beaux Arts in Paris and the Royal Academy in London. His first painting at the Royal Academy was bought by a Professor Owen, an acquaintance of Edwin Landseer, who was said to have admired it repeatedly.

Girl's Head

Girl's Head

Thomas Stuart Smith (1813–1869)

In 1849 Alexander Smith died intestate. Thomas took possession of the estate in 1857, beating 18 other claimants. During those eight years he taught art at the Nottingham School of Design. The collector and watercolourist James Orrock was one of his pupils – he commented on how Smith could paint anything. Smith was also known to the Barbizon School of realistic painting, including the animal painters Constant Troyon and John Phillip.

Leaving the Ball

Leaving the Ball

Thomas Stuart Smith (1813–1869)

Having gained the estate, he kept it just six years before selling it and using the funds to move to London and create an art collection in Fitzroy Square that included his own work. Ultimately he decided to create an Institute in Stirling to house his new collection and drew up plans for a library, museum, and a reading room, and offered £5,000 to the council if they could donate a site within two years. He signed the trust into existence in November 1869 with himself, James Barty, the Provost of Stirling, and fellow artist Alfred Wilson Cox as trustees. However, Smith was prevented from seeing his plans fulfilled as he died the next month in Avignon.

Leaves and a Waterfall

Leaves and a Waterfall

Thomas Stuart Smith (1813–1869)

Today, Smith has hundreds of paintings in public collections, which you can browse on Art UK. Two of them are particularly important – they are portraits of black men painted at a time when it was rare to see depictions of people of colour other than as servants. You can read more about them in this story.

Smith's major legacy is The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum, founded in 1874 with Smith's bequest and collection, which still operates under the modified trust deed of its founder.

Michael McGinnes, Collections Manager, The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum