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Sheldon reveals more of Wallace Herndon Smith

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 6, 2010 - The Sheldon Art Galleries regularly features themed exhibitions of paintings by Wallace Herndon Smith, the venerable St. Louis artist who died in 1990, to expose wider audiences to its sizable collection of Smith’s accomplished work.

The current exhibit in the Sheldon’s Bellwether Gallery includes several intimate paintings of figures, mainly in interiors, and they reveal what Smith did best: balance realism and close observation with a degree of modernist abstraction inherited from his European artistic forebears.

Paintings like “Kelse at the Piano” from c. 1940 surround the contained and quiet female figure with loose, independent brushstrokes and decorative arabesques in the vein of Henri Matisse’s interiors.

In an untitled work c. 1960, figures on a beach are given the solid, even sculptural treatment one sees in Max Beckmann’s work.

Throughout these works, however, Smith’s characteristic subdued tones hold sway. Never given to using riotous, bright colors, Smith preferred instead to unify his compositions with a dusky atmosphere that lends them no small dose of melancholy.

In these interior works the subjects are represented in moments of quiet concentration, reading or sewing, or merely sitting, in quiet introspection, as in the undated “Peggy Bacon at Home.” The collection gives a glimpse into one important aspect of Smith’s considerable oeuvre.

Also playing in the gallery is “Wallace Herndon Smith: Artist Without Boundaries,” the new documentary by Christian Cudnik on the artist’s life and work.

Ivy Cooper, a professor of art at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, is the Beacon's art critic.

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