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Robert Borlase Smart

(1881-1947) – War artist

Borlase Smart first came to St Ives in 1913 to become a professional artist. War intervened and he met Leonard Fuller drawing Lewis guns for training manuals. Borlase Smart then became an unofficial war artist. His dream of founding a St Ives School of Painting with Fuller was fulfilled in 1938.

Credit: Porthmeor Studios, St Ives

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Born in Kingsbridge, Devon, Robert Borlase Smart studied art in Plymouth between 1897 and 1900.  After this he trained as a teacher and then became a journalist.  In 1913 he decided to become a professional artist and moved to St Ives to study seascape painting under Julius Olsson.  War interrupted his plans and he joined the Artists Rifles as a volunteer.  In 1915 he met the artist Leonard Fuller and they became lifelong friends.  Both married in 1917; Borlase Smart’s wife Irene was almost half his age.  Plans to set up an art school in St Ives were initiated but took years to implement.

Borlase Smart and Fuller met in 1915 when they were both employed at Harrowby Camp, Grantham to make technical drawings of the new Lewis machine gun for the Machine Gun Training Centre.   Under the heading ‘The Sighting of the Lewis Gun, Aim it Straight - Kill that Hun’ Borlase Smart included a cartoon of a German.

Once in France, Borlase Smart soon established himself as an unofficial war artist and his first exhibition, ‘Sketches of the Western Front from Vimy Ridge to the Somme’, was held as early as 1917 at the Fine Art Society, New Bond Street, London.  He later gave some sketches to the Imperial War Museum and National Maritime Museum.

Borlase Smart and his wife went to St Ives as planned in 1919, but the Fullers did not join them until 1938, by which time Borlase Smart was well-established as a St Ives school artist.  Borlase Smart’s work, on a miniature scale, was even included in Queen Mary’s dolls house in 1922.  It was he who led the successful campaign against slum clearances in St Ives in 1934, helped the Fullers set up the St Ives School of Art in 1938 and was among the welcoming party, with Fuller, for Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson in 1939.

Following Borlase Smart’s death from a heart attack, the Penwith Society of Artists was formed as a tribute.  In 1950 the Borlase Smart Trust purchased Porthmeor Studios.

Key words: trenches

Credit: Porthmeor Studios, St Ives