Jeffrey Smart was an expatriate Australian painter known for his precisionist depictions of urban landscapes that are “full of private jokes and playful allusions”.
Jeffrey Smart was born and educated in Adelaide where he worked as an Art teacher. After departing for Europe in 1948 he studied in Paris at La Grande Chaumière, and later at the Académie Montmartre under Fernand Léger. He returned to Australia 1951, living in Sydney, and began exhibiting frequently in 1957. In 1963, he moved to Italy. After a successful exhibition in London, he bought a rural property called “Posticcia Nuova” near Arezzo in Tuscany. He resided there with his partner until his death.
His autobiography, Not Quite Straight, was published in 1996. A major retrospective of his works travelled around Australian art galleries 1999–2000.
Jeff Smart, as he was generally known for the first thirty years of his life, was born in Adelaide in 1921. He started drawing at an early age. “My parents would give me large sheets of paper, often the backs of posters or calendars … anything”. He was educated at Pulteney Grammar School and Unley High School, and originally wanted to become an architect.
However, after studying at the Adelaide Teachers College and the South Australian School of Art and Crafts in 1937–1941, he taught art in schools for the South Australian Education Department in 1942–1947. In the early 1940s he accompanied local maritime artist, John Giles, in painting industrial landscapes at Port Adelaide. He joined the Royal South Australian Society of Arts around 1941 and was elected vice-president in 1950. It was during this period that he acknowledged his homosexuality.
Jeffrey Smart travelled to Europe in 1948, studying in Paris at La Grand Chaumière and later the Académie Montmartre under Fernand Léger. “As my technique grew, I found I could paint those things I liked looking at, those slum streets behind the city apartments”. In 1950 he lived on the island of Ischia in the bay of Naples, where he painted with Donald Friend, Michael Shannon and Jacqueline Hick.
In 1951, Jeffrey Smart moved to Sydney and spent the next 2 years there as an art critic for the Daily Telegraph (1952–54), an arts compere called Phidias for the ABC children’s radio programme The Argonauts, and a drawing teacher at the National Art School (1956–62). From 1956 to 1962, he also presented on ABC-TV’s Children’s Hour. Smart was also employed by The King’s School, Parramatta in 1954–56 as an Art teacher, following Jean Bellette (known as Mrs Haefliger) and John Passmore. He exhibited throughout this period at the Macquarie Galleries.
Jeffrey Smart departed Australia for London on the Castel Felice out of Sydney just after Christmas 1963, driving to Greece with fellow painter Justin O’Brien. In 1965 he returned to Italy, and lived there for the rest of his life, regarding himself as an “Australian living abroad” and carrying an Australian passport. His last work, “Labyrinth”, was completed in 2011, at which point he announced his retirement. (Frank Jeffrey Edson Smart), AO (26 July 1921 – 20 June 2013)