Joshua Smith (1905-1995) achieved fame as the subject of the painting by William Dobell that won the Archibald Prize in 1943. Smith and another party jointly challenged the award in court on the ground that the painting was a caricature. Correction, 7 Oct 06, Smith was not a party to the action, see comments below. It is claimed that the proceedings on some days displaced war news from the headlines of the Sydney Morning Herald. The case failed and Dobell retained the prize, but the warm friendship between the two painters was shattered. Both were seared by the events, Dobell suffered from a stress-induced dermatitis and both went into virtual seclusion.
Smith deserves to be remembered as a fine painter in his own right and it is good to see a retrospective display of 72 of his works at the Manly Art Gallery.
Joshua Smith’s life was devoted to art. Although remembered mainly for his portraits, he also created landscapes and still-lifes, genre studies and figure compositions. A fascinating, enigmatic character, this exhibition reveals his incredible talent, versatility and creativity.
Unfortunately there appear to be no works by Smith on line, with the exception of a still life at a commercial gallery. Also on display in Manly is a drawing by Dobell that was the basis of the award-winning work, along with sketches and self-portraits by Smith himself. The resemblance in the structure of the face, especially the setting of the eyes, depicted in the sketches by Smith and Dobell is striking, Given this resemblance it is amazing that Smith should have joined the action against Dobell, and it is strange that anyone, least of all Smith himself, should have regarded Dobell’s painting as a caricature.