FRANCIS DREXEL SMITH
“Twilight in the Garden of the Gods”, ca. 1920 | 35”x40” - oil on canvas
Francis Drexel Smith’s painting is set in Garden of the Gods, near Colorado Springs. The piece places the viewer outside the scene, looking down between two large silhouetted stone outcroppings into the blue distance of the valley and mountains. Smith creates a moment of magic at dusk or twilight using the atmosphere and the grandeur of the unusual geologic elements, enticing the viewer to enter the scene.
Chicago native Francis Drexel Smith initially attended the “Antique Class” at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he studied with traditionalist artists John H. Vanderpoel, Alice Hay, Charles Francis Browne, Enella Benedict, Pauline Dohn, J. Buckley, Martha Baker, and Louis Wilson. In 1901 Smith relocated to Colorado Springs where he enjoyed a successful career for the rest of his life as a painter of landscapes, cityscapes and still lifes in a modified modernist style.
He soon became active in local art circles, and was one of the initial trustees in 1919 of the newly-founded Broadmoor Art Academy together with D.V. Donaldson, Julie Penrose, Anne Gregory Ritter and Charles L. Tutt. Julie was instrumental in persuading her husband Spencer Penrose, who established the Broadmoor Hotel, to donate their home at 30 West Dale for the purpose of establishing a local art institution that in 1936 became the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Drexel Smith actively promoted the Broadmoor Art Academy, serving on various committees in its early years. He was a trustee (1925-30), and President of the Board (1927-30). In 1931 he was an art advisor.
He studied with John F. Carlson, a National Academician and first professor of landscape painting at the Broadmoor Art Academy in Colorado Springs during the summers of 1920-22. Carlson thereafter founded the John F. Carlson School of Landscape Painting at Woodstock, New York. In 1922 Drexel Smith joined the Professional Members of the Broadmoor Art Academy and annually exhibited with them for a number of years. He also studied briefly with American Impressionist, Everett Warner in Colorado Springs in the early 1920s.
From this time dates Drexel Smith’s painting, Twilight in the Garden of the Gods, included in the 28th Annual Exhibition of the Denver Art Association (1922). Set in the Garden of the Gods at the foot of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, the National Natural Landmark has proven popular with artists for more than 150 years on account of its stunning, reddish geological formations millions of years old. The atmosphere of his nocturne recalls similar scenes by his teacher, John F. Carlson, done plein-air while in Colorado Springs. Drexel Smith situates the viewer between two of the park’s huge sandstone “towers,” serving as an entrée to the bluish mountain massifs in the distance.
Somewhat later in the 1920s he painted, Sunset in the Garden of the Gods, a panoramic landscape now in the collection of the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Arts in Denver. The slightly brighter palette reflects the influence of Everett Warner, his other teacher at the Broadmoor Art Academy. The striking shapes of the massive rock formations in the Garden of the Gods provided Drexel Smith with a rich source of subject matter for painting, whether on location or in his studio.
By the early 1930s, the style of his work became more sparing and sharply painted with a minimum of detail. He increasingly focused on the architectural forms of the residential and rural buildings located in the landscape in and around Colorado Springs. His painting, West Colorado Springs, shown in the 44th Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, in 1931 is characteristic of his work in this genre during that decade. In the review of Drexel Smith’s painting Freight Cars (now in the Dubuque Museum of Art), shown in the 37th Annual Exhibition of the Denver Art Museum its curator, Donald Bear, wrote in the Rocky Mountain News: “There is always something very enjoyable about the crisp graphic certainty of Drexel Smith’s painting of any subject matter from box cars to boarding houses.”
On the occasion of his one-man show at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center in 1937, New York artist Peppino Mangravite, then teaching at the Center’s art school, praised Drexel Smith’s paintings his review in the local press as Essentially American…stemming from the solidly established tradition of Homer, Hopper and Burchfield…[Smith’s] is an art without frills and without dogmas. It is earthy and human and appreciates consciously and conscientiously native aspects of suburban and rural scenes. Such an attitude toward nature and life is bound to lead the artist to feel and see their changing moods with understanding, and to feel, see and paint them with the clarity with which Francis Drexel Smith does is an accomplishment worthy of admiration.
Examples of his Colorado Springs genre scenes referenced by Mangravite are Town Scene with Horse, The Wortham Shows, and Two Horse Town.
Still lifes form a smaller part of Drexel Smith’s oeuvre, providing a respite from the many landscapes and cityscapes he did throughout his career. His untitled still life from 1940 presents a vignette of his Colorado Springs studio with several partially-visible examples of his work -- an oil and a watercolor -- leaning against the reverse side of one of his other larger paintings with exhibition stickers and location notes affixed to the back of its stretcher. Placed in front of them to create visual interest and to convey some of his own pastimes are two ceramics -- a seated Native American and an Oriental figure -- accompanied by a black ceramic horse and an empty bottle of champagne.
While pursuing his own art in Colorado, he participated with his painter colleagues in several of the state’s art organizations. In 1928 he became one of fifty-two founding members of the Denver Artists Guild that included many leading artists from Denver and Colorado Springs. It became the primary artists’ organization in the state for more than two decades. He participated in its annual exhibitions and community events to heighten public awareness of the fine arts in the state. In addition to the Denver Artists Guild, he also belonged to the Denver Art Association and the American Federation of the Arts.
Along with his art, he figured prominently in Colorado Springs social circles whose activities were regularly reported in the local press. Portraitist John L. McClymont, an alumnus of the Royal Scottish Academy who later belonged to the Professional Members of the Broadmoor Art Academy, created a full-length likeness of the elegantly-attired Drexel Smith in the early 1920s that is now in the collection of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. His social cachet came from the familial connection of his mother, Mary Lanning Rozet, with the wealthy Drexel family of Philadelphia and New York, underscored by his double last name. In 1912 he was one of the original members of the Broadmoor Cooking Club, a small all-male social club founded by Spencer Penrose and his fun-loving companions who delighted in the art of eating and drinking. Drexel Smith also belonged to the Cheyenne Mountain Country Club and the El Paso Club in downtown Colorado Springs.
In 1960 Drexel Smith’s stepchildren honored him by donating a bench in his memory for the Alice Bemis Taylor Park on Cascade Avenue in downtown Colorado Springs. Dubbed “Lady Bountiful” by the local press, her sizable financial donations facilitated the creation of the Colorado Springs Day Nursery and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. She also financially supported the Colorado College and many other city institutions. Drexel Smith’s bench in the park has a matching one dedicated to his friend and tennis antagonist, J. Arthur Connell. A native of Scotland, he came to Colorado Springs in 1884 where he had a ranch at Black Forest and later made his fortune in banking and real estate.
Solo Exhibitions: Babcock Gallery, New York (1925); Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1937, 1954).
Group Exhibitions: Denver Art Association (1917, 1920, 1922); Broadmoor Art Academy (1920-23. 1929-20, 1932, 1934); Seattle Art Museum, (1922, 1929-prize); National Academy of Design (1922); Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1923,1929); Kansas City Art Institute (1924-prize); Buffalo Society of Artists, (1925-prize); Denver Art Museum (1925-28, 1931, 1936,1939); “Northwest Artists Annual Exhibition,” Art Institute of Seattle, Washington (1929); “Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture,” Art Institute of Chicago (1931, 1932-33); Mississippi Art Association/Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson (1932-prize); Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1938, 1952); “Artists West of the Mississippi,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1938, 1941, 1945); New Orleans Art Association (1940-prize); “Corcoran Biennial,” Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1947); “Show of Color,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1971); ”Pikes Peak Vision,” The Broadmoor Academy, 1919-1945,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1989).
Collections: Dubuque Museum of Art, Iowa; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; Pioneers Museum, Colorado Springs; Western History Art Collection, Denver Public Library; Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Arts, Denver.