Letters written by James Smetham, 1853-1877, mainly to William Davies, concerning his work, schemes to raise money and his religious beliefs. Smetham called his letters "ventilators" and they often took the form of handmade notebooks with their contents resembling diaries or commonplace books. Other correspondents include Rev Thomas Akroyd, Quintin Hogg (1845-1903), Charles Mansford, Charles Gabriel Dante Rossetti (1828-1882), John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Frederic James Shields (1833-1911). Also letters to Sarah Smetham, his widow, from William Davies, 1889-1895.
SMETHAM, James (1821-1889)
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
James Smetham was born in Pateley Bridge, Yorkshire, in 1821 and educated in Leeds. He began his career apprenticed to an architect but left to make his living painting portraits in Shropshire. In 1843 he went to London and entered the Academy School but left before completing the course and returned to itinerate portrait painting. In 1851 he became drawing teacher at the Wesleyan Normal College, Westminster, where he remained until his final illness. He married Sarah Goble, another teacher from the College, in 1854, and they had six children. In 1877 he suffered a final breakdown and lived in seclusion until his death in 1889. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery. His early work has been compared to William Blake and he was a Pre-Raphaelite associate numbering John Ruskin and Charles Gabriel Dante Rossetti among his admirers and friends. Religion was as important to him as art, he regularly attended Saturday and Sunday services and was a Methodist class leader. After his death his widow collaborated with William Davies (c1830-1897), a lifelong friend of Smetham and his family, on an edition of her husband's letters.
The letters are arranged in two series: letters by Smetham and letters about Smetham; each series is arranged chronologically.
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Purchased by Dorothy Moore for Westfield College in 1971.
Other Finding Aids
Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Department of Western Manuscripts holds letters from and concerning Smetham, 1861-1911 (Ref: MSS Eng c 5315); Victoria and Albert Museum, National Art Library holds letters from GCD Rossetti, 1861-1879; Oxford Brookes, Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History, Special Collections hold a collection of Smetham's art, some personal papers and correspondence (Ref: The Smetham Collection).
Conditions Governing Use
Photocopying at the discretion of the Archivist.
This is a small and random survival of the letters collected and published by Sarah Smetham and William Davies.