In the 1870s Smetham began to paint in thinned oils mixed with copal (a kind of resin) over pen and ink on small panels, that he could 'do in a day and at a sitting,' 'glowing in colour and rich in effect,' 'too small for Exhibitions — more for cabinets.' They were to have been his financial salvation, but nothing could save him from the depression that gave him insomnia, against which he dosed himself increasingly with chloral. Smetham was a strange figure, conscious of his own isolation. A fervent Wesleyan, the son of a minister, he had attempted to evolve 'a place of life, beginning in a course of long disciplinary study, and intended to combine art, literature, and the religious life all in one.' Towards the end of his life he wrote: 'Am I to be gradually crushed and ruined by critics, utter neglect or collision with Methodism?'

His work was greatly admired by Ruskin, and by Rossetti, who saw him as the successor to Blake. — Rupert Maas, p. 56

"From a painting by himself" (frontispiece to his Letters).

Biographical and Critical Material



Bishop, Morchard and Edward Malins. James Smetham and Francis Danby. Two 19th Century Romantic Painters. London: Eric & Joan Stevens, 1974.

Casteras, Susan P. James Smetham: Artist, Author, Pre-Raphaelite Associate. Aldershot, U.K.: Scholar Press, 1995.

Davies, William. "Memoir of James Smetham." In Letters of James Smetham. Ed. Sarah Smetham and William Davies. London: Macmillan, 1892. 1-50. Google Books. Free Ebook.

Forsaith, Peter S. “James Smetham, Wesleyan Pre-Raphaelite.” Pre-Raphaelite Society Review 24 (Autumn 2016): 55-65.

Gilchrist, Alexander. The Life of William Blake. Vol. I, London: Macmillan and Co., second edition, 1880.

Grigson, Geoffrey. “James Smetham.” The Cornhill Magazine, 163 (Autumn 1948): 323-46.

Hueffer, Ford M. Ford Madox Brown. A Record of his Life and Works. London: Longmans, Green and Co. 1896.

“James Smetham and C. Allston Collins.” The Art Journal 66 (1904): 281-82.

James Smetham Studio Notebook, 1871-1873. Smetham Collection, SME/1/5/3. The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History. Flickr. Web. 17 April 2021.

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Chelsea Years, 1863-67. Ed. William E. Fredeman, Volume 3. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2003.

Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti. Volume 2. London: Brown Langham & Co. Ltd., 1906.

Ruskin, John. The Works of John Ruskin. Ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn Vol. 14. London: George Allen, 1904.

Smetham, James. The Letters of James Smetham: With an Introductory Memoir, Ed. Sarah Smetham and William Davies. London: Macmillan, 1892.

Smetham, Sarah: Family Letters and Memoranda, with Some Additional Letters of James Smethan, 2 Vols. Unpublished and undated, Smetham family collection.

Smetham, James. “Modern Sacred Art in England.” The London Review 18 (1862): 51-79.

Last modified 23 March 2022