Completed British 20th C, except portraits, London: Artists and Subjects, North West England: Artists and Subjects 66 Further information sought on the artist Mary W. Parker (b. Bury, 1904)

New Street, Baghdad
Topic: Artist

This painting was given to the National Trust by Agatha Christie’s daughter Rosalind Hicks, son-in-law Anthony Hicks and son Mathew Prichard.

I come from Baghdad and would appreciate any help regarding the artist and the painting. Agatha Christie lived with her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan in Baghdad, Iraq for many years. They were married in 1930 and she collected antiques and artwork. I think she must have met Mary W. Parker (née Smith) in Baghdad and either bought the painting from her or received it as a gift. I have tried hard to find out anything about Mary, but with no success. I look forward to your help.

Professor Ihsan Fethi, Architect and Art Historian

Marion Richards, Art Detective Manager, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. It has provided a rich and fascinating account of the life and work of the artist Mary Winifred Smith, née Parker (1904–1992), including a biography for Art UK generously contributed by Mary’s son, Professor Harry Smith.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing it for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Wendy Howard,

Married Sidney Smith in 1927 in Bury, Lancashire. 1911 Census:Henry Wilfred Parker 39. Traveller in cotton bleach wk.
Helen Durley Parker 40
Richard Wilfrid Parker 10
Eric Buckley Parker 8
Mary Winifrid Parker 7
Sidney Smith Parker 2
Florence Barnes 26
The Elms, Walshaw Road, Bury.

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, Wendy is right: the NT has it the wrong way round, she was Smith née Parker. Her husband Sidney Smith (1889-1979) was an Assyriologist, and Director of Antiquities and of the Iraq Museum in Bagdhad 1929-30 (on secondment from the British Museum). The Bagdhad dates are given differently on Wikipedia ('1926-31'), but those are the ones he gave in his Who's Who entry.

See - there's a tiny bit about Mary on p. 4 [465 as originally paginated). She seems to have exhibited a little under both Smith & Parker names. Sadly no time to research her properly now, will pass the baton on to others.

Osmund Bullock,

I've just read the whole of the British Academy obituary of Sidney Smith linked to above, and on the last two pages there are quotes about him from both Agatha Christie & (extensively) her husband Max Mallowan, who clearly knew him very well. Max's 1977 autobiography, 'Mallowan's Memoirs', is referenced, and I've just accessed it on Internet Archive where books still in copyright can sometimes be 'borrowed'.

Lo and behold, in a description of Sidney Smith on page 305 ( he writes, "In Bagdhad, where he did a spell as Director of Antiquities for about two years, he was well-liked and admired. Mary Smith, his wife, a gifted artist, executed a historic tempera painting of the main street in Bagdhad in about 1927 (then called New Street, now Rashid Street), pictured at a time before the motor car had replaced the horse-cab."

It seems that though his official tenure at Bagdhad did not start until 1929, the Smiths were in the city a couple of years before that.

I hope and the publishers will forgive me for attaching a screen grab of the page - Marion, if you think it's problematic or just unnecessary, please feel free to remove.

1 attachment

Can anyone supply a death date or/and obituary notice for Mary Winifrid [Winifred?] Smith? The Witt Library checklist of artists recorded there does not have it, nor is she included in Sara Gray's 'Dictionary of British Women Artists' (2009). It could/ should be much later than the Art UK last-active date of 1956, and the obit, of he husband, already noted, shows that she and their two children (Henry Sidney Smith, Professor of Egyptology at London University from 197, and a daughter, Zoe) survived him. Perhaps a case of 'family, please speak up'....

S. Elin Jones,

I think that Mary and her husband must have been very good friends with Agatha Christie. In the novel that she wrote in 1942 called 'The Moving Finger' the dedication page says:

"To my Friends
Sydney and Mary Smith"

I also have information as to an immediate member of their family, with a possible way of contacting them. I think it may be best that I email that information through to ArtUK rather than posting any of it on here.

Sounds good: this is another case where (at minimum) up to about 400 words of basic, accurate biography would fill a rather surprising gap, though the subject would no doubt deserve more.

Osmund Bullock,

Smith and Parker are challenging names genealogically, Pieter, but I think (after a bit of a struggle) I can manage the basics. Mary's date of death was particularly elusive, as it turns out that she died in Australia (I don't know where), on 11/9/1992 - see attached 1.

Her date of birth appears in her 1939 Register entry (attached 2) - it appears to be 29/2/1904 (it was a leap year), though the day could also read 21 or 27. However her birth was not registered at Bury until the following quarter. In '39 She was staying/living with her parents in Bury, probably with her younger child Zoe (though the name is redacted). Her husband Sidney was still in London at their Hampstead home (in what we now call Belsize Park) - it was later damaged in the Blitz, forcing him to move into the British Museum where he worked.**

Their two children, Henry Sidney (a distinguished Egyptologist - see and Zoe, were born in 1928 (14 Jun) and 1933 (last quarter) respectively.

As to deserving more, I often find myself saddened by the standard phrase given as her occupation in 1939: 'Unpaid Domestic Duties'. I am no fire-breathing uber-feminist, but perhaps we need a new version of Gray's Elegy to remind us how an entire sex was once largely excluded from developing their talents.

[**Not much relevant, but perhaps of interest - the LCC bomb damage map shows only 'minor blast damage' to their home, but it's close to an area of total destruction (attached 3) - I have often found structural damage apparently underestimated, and the house was indeed later demolished.]

Jacinto Regalado,

Pieter, where do such biographical notes, such as the one prepared recently for Arthur George Mills, wind up going? In other words, the point is surely for that information to be readily accessible to anyone interested. How does that work?

The ones I have so far done are generally attached to these discussions, which is largely on what (inc sources quoted in them) they are based; and I at least hope that Art UK keeps a copy of them.

So far the ones I have, some posted up but others with things still to resolve, are:
Edward William Cocks,
John Emery,
Joseph Miles Gilbert,
Edwin Greenwood,
George Harrison (1840-1910) and the unrelated George Harrison (flower painter, 1816-47),
Richard Langley
James Wilson Mackenzie,
Arthur George Mills,
Edward Parr,
William Pratt
George Frederick Sargent and his son George Frederick Francisco Sargent (this was spinoff from a Sickert discussion on 'Margate in the time of Turner')
The Thornbery/Thornely/ Thornleys, not all the same family (William Anslow Thornbery, 1847-1907; Charles Thornely, 1832/3 -1903;Georges William Thornley, 1857–1935; Morgan Alfred Thornley, 1897–1965)
James Webb

Jacinto Regalado,

But how would someone who does not follow Art Detective and is simply using the Art UK database to get information even know there was such a discussion? How would he or she know such biographical information exists and where to find it?

Osmund Bullock,

The question Jacinto raises is a good one, though - and I know it's previously been on your mind, Pieter. The Art UK website certainly publishes the correct vital dates of the artists; and having just done experimental internet searches for a few of the artists concerned I can confirm that the relevant Art Detective discussions readily appear in the results.

Whether or not more direct access can be provided to Pieter's usefully-concise biographies - or at least their contents formally shared with other arts organisations - is not, I think, something that should be discussed further here; but I do think it needs to be seriously addressed by the PCF/Art UK.

Jacinto Regalado,

I was not referring to doing an internet search on, say, Google, but simply coming to the Art UK site to find information here on a particular artist. Given that, how does a visitor find the kind of biographical data we're discussing if he or she is not familiar with the Art Detective section and simply enters the artist's name in the Art UK search engine?

Artists’ bios will be extracted from the discussions and written up as stories in due course when possible. None of the information sent to us is lost, but we are very conscious that it needs to be made available. We are in the process of transferring all Art Detective outcomes as stories to Art UK to make them more accessible.

Well, this is what we have so far from the above on Mary Parker/Smith. Clarifications, corrections etc welcome.

Mary Winifrid Parker (Mary W. Smith), 1904-92

Mary Parker was born in Bury, Lancs, on either 21, 27 or 29 February 1904, second child (of four) and elder daughter of Henry Wilfred Parker, a ‘traveller in cotton bleach work’, and his wife Helen. Clearly artistic, she attended the Slade School in London where, in 1926, she won First Prize (equal) for her ‘Portrait of a Bearded Old man’ (UCL Art Museum) and, presumably while there, met Sidney Smith (1889–1979), Leeds-born Assyriology curator at the British Museum, who began working in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1926. They married at Bury in 1927 [TBC] and she joined him in Baghdad where (on secondment from the BM) he became Director of Antiquities and the Iraq Museum from 1929 until January 1931, when he returned to become BM Keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities. She came back temporarily to London in 1928, however, for the birth of their son, Henry Sidney Smith (b. 14 June 1928, later Edwards Professor or Egyptology at University College, London, 1970–86). In Baghdad the Smiths became good friends of the archaeologist Max Mallowan and his wife, the crime writer Agatha Christie, who in 1942 dedicated her novel 'The Moving Finger' to them. When Christie’s house, ‘Greenway’, in Devon, passed to the National Trust in 2006, the gift of contents from her children included Mary’s 1930 gouache painting of ‘New Street, Baghdad’ (now Rashid Street). This is signed ‘Mary W. Parker’ but two portraits of the same girl, in a similar blue dress, now in the Bury and Manchester Art Galleries are signed ‘Mary W. Smith’, so she used both names: the sitter in these portraits may be her daughter Zoe (b. 1933), and they are both probably from about 1947, the Manchester one being so-dated. She also deployed her talents to draw the maps and other illustration in her husband’s scholarly publications. The 1939 Register, however, which shows her and probably Zoe (aged six) as then staying in Bury with her parents, gives her occupation as ‘unpaid domestic duties’ (i.e. housewife), which suggests she did not assert ‘artist’ as her independent profession. Despite its obvious quality, no significant body of her work is recorded and she does not figure in Sara Gray’s 'Dictionary of British Women Artists' (2009) or other such sources. The Smiths’ house in Belsize Park, London, suffered wartime blast damage and was later demolished. On Mary’s husband’s retirement in 1955 they moved to Barcombe, near Lewes, where he died in 1979, aged 90. She died in hospital in Australia on 11 September 1992 (notice in 'The Times' , 22 Sept.), though whether as a visitor or by then resident there remains for confirmation.

Jacinto Regalado,

It seems evident Parker, albeit trained as an artist, did not pursue art as a career or profession. There may be other work by her in private hands, such as family members, but it is not surprising she does not appear reference sources.

True, but if she worked to at least 1956 - though what that 'latest date' is based on is not yet clear - it is possible she had some sort of exhibiting history, if only on a local basis, that has not yet resurfaced.

It would also be useful to know how Bury and Manchester got the two portraits they have, and UCL her prizewinning head of a bearded old man. Those at Bury and UCL might -for obvious reasons - be family gifts (the latter perhaps from her eminent Professor son).

Any artistic biographical dictionary has to have some baseline for inclusion and I'm not criticizing the 2009 one of British women artists if she eluded it, except to observe that modern keenness to celebrate various categories of people claimed to have been 'historically excluded from white-male dominated anything' make omissions (accidental or otherwise) of someone clearly good and in four public collections noticeable. Perhaps, however, the confusion over her name - as Smith in Manchester and Bury but Parker at UCL and with the National Trust - have so far been part of the problem: that's something which this discussion certainly resolves, but of which people need to be aware given that works may turn up from now on signed either way.

Osmund Bullock,

Thanks for that, Pieter. I've done quite a lot of work on this, and have a number of additions and corrections. However, I'm very busy (and partly away) until the weekend, so bear with me - I won't be able to write things up until then at the earliest. Oh, and my apologies for misspelling 'Baghdad' several times in previous posts.

Jacinto Regalado,

The pictures at Manchester and Bury are under Mary Smith, and the one at UCL and this one are under Mary Parker. All four will need to be put under the same name with the proper vital dates for purposes of standardization and search efficacy, though obviously both names can be included, as in Mary W. Smith (née Parker) or Mary W. Parker (married name Smith).

From David Buckman, ‘Artists in Britain since 1945’, vol. 2, p. 1475 we can add that Mary studied at the Slade under Henry Tonks and Philip Wilson Steer. According to this entry, she lived in Iraq 1928–1930, London 1930–1955, and Barcombe, Sussex 1955–1982. She was a member of the Women’s International Art Club, also showing with the London Group, New England Arts Club and Royal Academy. From 1980 she suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and lived near her daughter in care at Dalmeny, NSW, Australia.

Thanks Marion, that's from things not readily to hand. I'll wait for Osmund's update and splice in whatever else appears before this one winds up.

Osmund Bullock,

Here is another of hers dated 1962, and exhibited with the same title at the RA the same year:
One of the works of hers Marion identified on Art UK ('Reflection') was also exhibited at the RA, in 1947; the other ('Girl with a book', 1947) may be the work titled 'Zoe' she exhibited there in 1948.

She exhibited a total of 20 oils at the RA between 1947 & 1965 - I've extracted a list and will give fuller details in a few days, but meanwhile it's worth noting that she exhibited as (and I think signed) 'Mary W Smith' up to and including 1951, and just 'Mary Smith' thereafter. She did not exhibit there as Parker.

Thank you to Elin Jones for the following links:

There is a very interesting University of Cambridge obituary of Sydney Smith available online. He was Professor Emeritus and this copy may fill in a few gaps in his timeline.
University of Cambridge obituary

Mary and Sydney Smith's son, Professor Harry Smith, is Emeritus Professor of Egyptology at University College London, holder of the Edwards Chair in Egyptology for many years and former Petrie Museum Curator. He also seems to be the current Vice-President of the Egypt Exploration Society.
Egypt Exploration Society smith
Contact us

In June 2018, the 'Friends of Petrie Museum' held a day to celebrate Harry Smith's 90th birthday. I suspect that they may have information as how to contact him. There is also a phone number at the bottom of the application form.
Friends of the Petrie Museum

The Director of the Egypt Exploration Society has kindly offered to forward a printed letter to Harry Smith, who does not use email. I will send that before I go on annual leave at the end of this week. In the meantime, my email message to the EES has been forwarded to Harry's friends, who may well be able to respond on his behalf.

Osmund Bullock,

Well done, Marion – I’d thought we might try the British Academy, but the EES is just as good. I've been diverted by Dartmouth/Tucker research, and haven't written up my findings on this, sorry; but I had formulated four or five questions for Prof. Henry S ('Harry') Smith, the answers to which have eluded me:

(1) Was his mother's DOB the 29th February (1904), or the 21st/27th? – the number is unclear in the 1939 Register.
(2) Was her middle name really spelled 'Winifrid' (as per the 1911 Census entry written by her father), or the more normal Winifred (as in the birth registration index)?
(3) Were his parents married in (presumably late) 1926, as given in the British Academy obituary, or early 1927? – the marriage was registered (at Bury, Lancs) in the first quarter of 1927.
(4) Are the two female portraits at Bury & Manchester ( both of his sister Zoe, as we suspect?
(5) Not vital as I've partly reconstructed their movements, but could he clarify the dates when his parents arrived in and departed from Baghdad? I'm now sure they could *not*, after all, have been there significantly before his posting** as Director of the Museum commenced (early Jan 1929) – but one or both of them may well arrived a bit early, in late 1928. Similarly, although his posting seems to have finished officially in March 1931, they may have left Iraq a month or two earlier.

[**Sidney had been there previously in 1922-23, but not in between]

Osmund Bullock,

And a supplementary, also not important.

Pieter suggested that Mary and Sidney may have first met in London in 1926 – however, Mary had a younger brother called Sidney Smith Parker (b. Bury 1908), which seems an extraordinary coincidence. Perhaps the families already knew each other in the north; the professor’s father and grandfather were also both called Sidney Smith - could one have been a godfather?

Osmund Bullock,

Not that it matters much, but the obituary of Professor Smith at the link from Elin Jones has little to do with Cambridge University – it is just published by Cambridge University Press’s online platform for academic content ( It actually comes from the Autumn 1979 issue (Vol.41 pt.2) of 'IRAQ', the journal of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (formerly the British School of Archaeology in Iraq) – Smith founded and launched the journal in 1934, and was its first editor ( What does perhaps matter a bit more is that his name was Sidney, not Sydney – if Agatha Christie really did spell it with a ‘y’ she was mistaken!

Osmund Bullock,

Nevertheless the obit’s content is very useful, and had already – in conjunction with other evidence – caused me to adjust the timeline for the Smiths in Baghdad. I was wrong (as was Max Mallowan's memory) to suggest that they must have been there as early as 1927 – and in fact I belatedly see that our picture is actually dated 1930. The BM itself says he was in post as Director at Baghdad 6th Jan 1929 – 20th Mar 1931 (, though he and Mary may well have arrived at the tail end of 1928. This concurs with several other probably more reliable sources than Wikipedia, e.g. If the Times report of 15th Dec 1930 on his appointment as Keeper of Egyptian & Assyrian Antiquities at the BM (attached 1) was right to say that he was “returning immediately”, then they may also have left a bit earlier than March 1931. Smith had certainly been in Iraq working under Leonard Woolley at the Ur excavation during the 1922-23 season, but it’s now clear he cannot have gone back there again until his secondment to the Baghdad position – he just wouldn’t have had time.

A continuous stream of papers, articles and books by him – and these largely based on his work on the collections in the BM – were published in London between 1924 & 1928, and there are notices of public lectures he gave there in both 1926 & 1927 (e.g. attached 2). He is also in the 1928 electoral register at 35 Parkhill Road, Hampstead (qualifying date in 1927) – and both he and Mary are registered at the same address for 1929 (i.e. 1928 qualification, the first year possible for a woman under 30). They had married in Lancashire either early in 1927 (BMD index), or at the end of 1926 (British Academy obit) – I can find no newspaper notice to tell us which – and of course their first child was born in June 1928.

Osmund Bullock,

On their return from Iraq Sidney & Mary moved into 7 Fellows Rd, Hampstead, where they are both on the electoral roll from 1932 to 1939 – their next-door neighbour in ’39 was the Director of the Tate, John Rothenstein. When war came Mary and the children seem to have gone to stay with her parents in Lancashire, while Sidney stayed behind in Belsize Park until the house was badly damaged by a parachute mine during the Blitz – after he left it was never lived in again. He moved into the British Museum, where he was later joined by Mary and the children – her first two years of exhibiting at the RA (1947-48) give her address as ‘No.1 Residence, British Museum, WC1’ . In 1949 the family moved to a flat at 15 Courtfield Road in South Kensington; they remained there until 1955 when they made their final move to Barcombe.

As well as ‘Zoe’ (her daughter), Mary exhibited another work at the RA in 1948, which was titled ‘Undergraduate’; this seems likely to have been a portrait of her son Harry, who at the time would have been up at Christ’s, Cambridge.

More on the rest of her exhibiting shortly.

Osmund Bullock,

Attached (1) is a PDF of Mary (W) Smith’s exhibiting at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions 1947-1965. They were all oils, and there are many different subject types: everything from portraits and still lives to landscapes and interiors.

Johnson & Greutzner (1976?) lists her as ‘Mary W Parker’, exhibiting two works at NEAC in 1925 from an address just round the corner from the Slade (Taviton St). They also have a ‘Mary Smith’ who might well be her, though the entry is confusing. See attached (2). On the plus side this Mary Smith was at the Slade, and there is exhibiting at NEAC (7 works) – and also two at Manchester, which would make sense; but the birth year is wrong (though close), and our Mary could not have been exhibiting as Smith as early as 1922. However, if the entry is part-based on a post-1927 ‘Who’s Who in Art’ (very possible), then the Mary Smith/Parker connection could well have been given. If it is her, the 1927 Paris address is interesting.

Does anyone have ready access to an early ‘Who’s Who in Art’ (they start in 1927), and/or the New English Art Club exhibitors 1886-2001 dictionary? One or other might clarify things.

Giles Ellingworth ,

Greetings to all.
I am Mary’s grandson and live in Tathra on the NSW South Coast close to where she died in Dalmeny in 1992. Mary came to live with us in Melbourne in 1982 after Sidney died and she was diagnosed with dementia.
Her daughter Zoe, my mother, is still alive though unfortunately not well, and is currently living in Bega, close to me.
I am in possession of a number of Mary’s artworks including a picture of an Iraqi boy which I believe was painted in about 1928-1930.
I have not seen the picture of Zoe in the Bury gallery before and can confirm she has the same eyes at the age of 85.
My uncle Harry also has a number of her artworks.
They are all beautiful pieces and we are slightly bemused that she never was recognised for her work.
Giles Ellingworth

Thanks Osmund: that's all coming together apart from sorting out the 'who's who' raised by Johnson & Greutzner: apologies for misreading the Bury census record at top in my draft: Mary was a third child of four (and only daughter).

Tim Williams,

I've checked the Who Was Who in Art and the Mary Smith from Johnson & Greutzner is Mary Constance Vivian Rodd nee Smith who signed her work 'Mary Smith'. She was the daughter of Vivian Hugh Smith and therefore not conflated with our Smith/Parker.

Osmund Bullock,

Thanks, Tim and Kenneth. Yes, Mary C V Rodd née Smith (1901-1981) – daughter of one peer and from 1928 the wife of another – is clearly the prime subject of the Johnson & Greutzner entry. Could you check, though, in your ‘Who Was Who in Art’ if she (as Rodd) is credited with having exhibited at Manchester?

The reason I ask is that in the two attached entries for Mary W(inifred) Smith in the 1970 & 1977 editions of ‘Who’s Who in Art’ (Rodd/Smith is not in it), she does give Manchester (MAFA) amongst her exhibiting. As I said before, this makes sense for an artist born and raised in Lancashire...but might be less expected for a London-born aristocrat with no known northern residence or connections. I wonder if J&G confused them – it’s an invaluable book, but it has numerous errors and omissions.

In any case we can add Manchester, the Beaux Arts* and (from the 1977 edn) ‘Dieppe’ to our subject’s exhibiting list. The ‘official purchases’ are intriguing. The LCC one might be the ‘Sussex Farm’ painting at Lewisham, which was “transferred from the Greater London Education Authority” to them in 2012. I wonder what’s happened to the Herts CC work?

[*This was in March 1934, a three-woman show:]

Thanks: that clear's the confusion. The one 'vital' still missing is exact day of birth (21, 27 or 29 Feb 1904). Giles, can you help and perhaps supply a month/ year for you mother's marriage and whether in the UK or after she went to Australia?

Osmund Bullock,

There are a few other outstanding questions, Pieter, unless we’re leaving them for Prof. Harry Smith. See post above 08/07/2019 17:56. I can answer your supplementary, though: Zoë Smith married John Ellingworth at Barcombe in Oct 1959. They moved to New South Wales late in 1961.

Osmund Bullock,

Thank you, Giles. I am very happy that we are giving your grandmother's work the belated recognition that you (and I) think it deserved.

Osmund: of the questions you raised on 8 July the outstanding ones are the spelling of Winifrid/ Winifred and Mary's specific marriage date in either late 1926 or early 1927. We also don't have an exact birth date in 'late 1933' for Zoe (whom Giles has identified as shown in the Bury portrait and therefore also in that at Manchester - since obviously the same sitter). The first is presumably the RA 'Reflection' picture of 1947 and the latter could be the RA 1948 'Zoe', but if so has somehow lost that title: that may be resoluble from family knowledge, or in the Manchester record (??). The Baghdad dates are now broadly clear.

The only other puzzle raised above but not yet resolved is whether Mary's younger brother's name of Sidney Smith Parker indicated an earlier family link with her later husband (Prof Sidney Smith) than Mary meeting him in the early 1920s while she was at the Slade.

I'm sure she deserves more but, apart from tying up these loose ends, the infromation above already provides a sufficiently long 'short biography' of just over 800 words...

Giles Ellingworth ,

My mother Zoe was born 17 October 1933.

I have now seen the biography my uncle Harry has written and it seems to answer a lot of the remaining questions. There were certainly some interesting family relationships. The biography has been sent to Marion Richards.

1. Giles - many thanks for your mother's birth date: also glad to hear Marion has heard from your uncle. We can pick up outstanding queries up with her when she returns from holiday.

2 . J. Foster - yes, the 'Sussex Farm' (1962) now at Lewisham was referenced in Osmund Bullock's posting above of 27 June and may well be Mary [W.] Smith's no. 526 exhibit in the RA Summer Exhibition of 1962 as noted in the RA list attached to his posting of 7 July. Somewhere above or otherwise in the record is also a note that it was allocated to Lewisham from the Greater London Education Authority, presumably on the abolition of the Greater London Council, so as a 'picture for schools' it looks likely though we'd need a more specific reference for any Whitechapel Gallery showing.

Thanks: I suppose Art UK should check whether it now has things on its web pages that Hertfordshire has just sold out of public ownership, but that looks like it could be the Mary Smith in question.

Osmund Bullock,

The lot at Cheffins would certainly make sense logically as the one referred to in Mary Smith's WWIA entry. However, we know of no watercolours by her (which is not to say she didn't paint them); and her signatures on the three oils one can see here are simple, neat and very legible - quite unlike that on the w/c, which I'm far from sure even reads 'Smith' anyway! See attached.

Osmund Bullock,

Pieter, I think it's only (only!) their Schools Art Loan Collection of contemporary (when acquired) artworks, which seem not to feature on Art UK. The project, of which Herts CC were rather proud even a decade ago, has been abandoned after 70 years, and all but 9% of the collection (which had almost 1500 works) is being flogged off or given away. Apparently they feel that most of the works have no connection with the county - and anyway these days school kids get to see art online. Ah yes, of we all know there's no difference whatever between looking at an image on your phone or tablet and seeing a painting in the flesh. The 400+ that have been sold at auction made nearly £0.5m, and the council say that "a proportion of the monies raised from these sales will be invested into the remaining collection". They have as yet declined to say what proportion, nor how the rest will be spent. Beyond depressing.

That clarifies: I missed the signature (and date ...'36 or...'56?), and resisted the temptation to make even more cynical comments. about 'leisure-services' directed financial-management. However, if Herts CC did have an oil by Mary S.(perhaps with the signature lost under a frame edge), that leaves the question of where it has gone. I don't see a way of searching Art UK by ownership as opposed to 'Venue' which might throw up an 'unknown artist' image that might fit.

Barbara Bryant,

Osmund, this is a sorry saga. Even though it goes beyond the discussion at hand, it sounds like something that the Art Newspaper or other might be interested in bringing to further public light (or has it already been?)

I have an uneasy feeling that this sort of thing has ceased to be news, and rather like other aspects of public life an area in which elected authority (or individuals) just have to be brazenly unprincipled and 'tweet-it-out' until 'post-truth' becomes the new normal. I doubt most of those whose life is dominated by what the late Leonard Cohen called 'that hopeless little screen' (and he in fact meant TV, not the even more hopeless populist serfdom to social media) has either the perspective or attention span to care any longer: if it isn't just for the next few seconds and an image for immediate gratification in your hand before moving on to the next it no longer matters.

Read Sassoon's 'In the National Gallery'

'Faces irresolute and unperplexed
Unspeculative faces, bored and weak,
Cruise past each patient victory of technique,
Dimly desiring to enjoy the next,
Yet never finding what they seem to seek...' and so on

Good morning.
I have received an email from Sue Davies, one of Prof. Smith’s friends, in response to the letter I posted to him. She writes that Harry was most interested to read the results of all the enquiries and searches into the life and work of his mother, and most impressed by the amount of information gathered. He is most grateful to everyone involved for this endeavour. He has, however, added that he does not wish to be involved in future personal correspondence on the subject due to his age and health and the fact that he does not use a computer.

Professor Smith has generously compiled a biography of his mother in which he has tried to cover all the points raised to date, to answer issues outstanding and to correct any errors (as of 15 July 2019), which is attached. I am very grateful to Sue Davies for typing and sending it. Sue adds that the only thing she could see that Harry had missed mentioning is how the Bury and Manchester Galleries came to have the paintings by Mary. They think that it may just have been a case of the curators wanting to obtain works by local artists. Harry does not think that Mary gave them the paintings, so it is, perhaps, more likely that they were purchased following exhibition somewhere. Presumably the galleries in question should be able to answer this. The picture in the UC collections was retained as being the property of the Slade School.

It was Sue who contacted one of Mary Smith’s grandsons, Giles Ellingworth, who has already contributed to the discussion. She wishes us good luck with future detective work and will keep Harry up to date with this discussion.

1 attachment

Thanks very much for that Marion, and on to both Sue Jones and Professor Smith: splicing that into what the discussion has turned up produces the attachment below. I am assuming, as regards minor discrepancies, that Registry dates (eg for Zoe Smith's marriage in 1959, not 1958) and dated exhibition lists are correct, but it is just an updated draft.

Manchester Art Gallery,

Hello from Manchester Art Gallery, and thank you.
I have had a look in our 1956 Curator's Action Book as well as our Accessions Register and find that although our database information distinctly records that 'Girl with a Book' was purchased from Mary W Smith for our own educational loan collection, the Rutherston Collection, it seems that it was initially purchased for the (at the time more prestigious) permanent collection from the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts Spring 1956 exhibition.
See attached photo from the Action Book (held in MAG archives). Unusually there is no correspondence with the artist about the purchase in our object file.

Thanks Manchester. Despite the eight years between the 'Zoe' exhibited at the RA in 1948 and 'Girl with a book' shown at Manchester in 1956, I think it remains reasonable to suggest they are probably the same. The sitter certainly looks the same age as in the Bury 'Reflection' portrait - which was purchased in 1949 - and the blue dress is practically the same (very slight differences are probably artistic variation), the chair shown is the same one, and there's nothing in the painting to suggest they are far apart. The 1949 Bury purchase number suggests it was not bought off the wall at the RA in 1947, unless there was a delay in registering it, so it may also have been exhibited somewhere else later and bought there, but only they could say.

Updated biographiy text attached

Osmund having made a few comments/ corrections, what I hope is a final biography draft is attached along with his screen-grab (from Magnus Bernhardsson's 'Reclaiming a Plundered Past...' Univ. of Texas, 2013). While only marginally relevant to Mary Parker/Smith, this better explains the circumstances of her husband's secondment to Baghdad in 1928 and suggests the book includes more on his work there.

Manto Psarelli,

Many thanks Pieter -as well as to everyone who contributed to the discussion. It has allowed us to gain a truly wonderful insight into Smith's life and work.

Taking my prompt from Pieter, I think it is probably time to close this investigation.

It began when Professor Ihsan Fethi sought information about the artist, Mary W Smith (née Parker), who painted New Street, Baghdad (National Trust, Greenway, Brixham). We are familiar with the city of the Arabian Nights, as depicted before the interventionist wars of the twentieth century by painters such as Tristram Ellis and Arthur Melville, but Smith was a later arrival in the era of Gertrude Bell and Freya Stark.

It has been fascinating to see a largely forgotten artist brought to light in a story that takes us from Bury to the Slade, then to Baghdad in the late 1920s, London in the Blitz, and on to her final years in New South Wales.

What emerges is a rich account, made doubly interesting by the detectives’ being able to trace Mary Smith’s son, Professor Harry Smith, and her grandson in Australia, Giles Ellingworth. Their accounts have helped immeasurably to complete the picture and answer questions posed by our stalwarts, Osmund and Pieter. Thanks are also due to E. Jones, J. Foster, Barbara Bryant and Tim Williams. It is useful to know from Marion in response to Jacinto’s question that all this research will be accessible. I am sure that Professor Fethi’s interest in the picture at Greenway has been greatly enriched, for the scene Mary Smith represents is indeed remarkable – a layered composition by a Slade School student, in which all the figures in the roadway move from right to left. Does it contain recognisable personalities? Are the buildings or other distinctive features to be found in contemporary photographs? Can we interpret the quirky perspectives? If we now know more about the artist, her picture still retains its mysteries.

As a final note, it also surprises me that Stark, once also a Slade student, who makes several mentions of Sidney Smith (she writes ‘Sydney’), in her letters from Baghdad, never alludes to Mary (Freya Stark, Beyond Euphrates, Autobiography 1928-1933, 1951, pkb ed., 1989).

S. Elin Jones,

New St. (Rashid St) appears to have been very close to the Museum in Iraq that Sidney Smith was based.

Attached is a link to a website that shows a really interesting selection of photographs of Baghdad from 1932.
Number 9 and 10 may be of particular interest.

I thought they were wonderful. They show a small glimpse of everyday life as Mary would have probably experienced, just at the end of her time in Iraq.