Smallfield was a painter of genre scenes in oil and watercolour. He was a student at the Royal Academy Schools in the late 1840s with the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but he was probably not close to them then, for he is not mentioned in their diaries. However by the late 1850s his works display a distinct Pre-Raphaelite influence. "Early Lovers", an oil painting now in Manchester City Art Gallery, is the best known. It shows a young couple against a meticulously observed background of flowers and leaves, a Pre-Raphaelite format first used in John Everett Millais' popular "Huguenot" of 1852.
In 1858, Ruskin praised Smallfield's watercolours in Academy Notes. Smallfield became best known as a watercolour painter, although he continued to exhibit occasional oils at the Royal Academy until the late 1870s. He was elected Associate of the Old Watercolour Society in 1860 and chiefly exhibited there although he also sent works to the Royal Academy, and the Grosvenor Gallery. In 1862 he contributed illustrations to Willmott's Sacred Poetry and Passages From Modern English Poets, but these were his sole contributions to the illustration revival of the 1860s. No less than three of his children became artists and exhibited from the 1880s onwards. Smallfield is still a little known artist, and there is no substantial printed study of his work.
Morgan, Hilary and Nahum, Peter. Burne-Jones, The Pre-Raphaelites and Their Century. London: Peter Nahum, 1989.
Last modified 21 December 2001