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Jack Carington Smith (1908–1972)

by Lindsay Broughton

This article was published:

Jack Carington Smith (1908-1972), artist and teacher, was born on 26 February 1908 at Launceston, Tasmania, son of native-born parents Robert Norman Smith, merchant, and his wife Muriel Matilda, née Johnstone. As a 15-year-old student at Launceston Church Grammar School, Jack had two water-colours accepted by the Launceston Art Society. Intent on a career as an artist, in 1925 he went to Sydney where he attended night-classes at East Sydney Technical College; he supported himself by working as a clerk for the Shell Co. of Australia Ltd and, from 1928, as a commercial artist.

On 28 September 1934 Smith married Ruth Tait Walker at St John's Anglican Church, Darlinghurst. Recognition came in the mid-1930s when he began exhibiting with the Society of Artists. In 1936 he won the New South Wales travelling art scholarship which enabled him to study at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, at the Westminster Technical Institute and in Paris. Influenced by Post-Impressionism and by the work of such contemporary British artists as Walter Richard Sickert, Carington Smith (as he now styled his surname) returned to Australia in 1939 and held his first one-man exhibition in Sydney that year. He was appointed head of the art department at Launceston Technical College, but moved to Hobart Technical College in 1940. His long-held aim to transfer his department from 'the Tech' was to be achieved in 1963. Renamed the Tasmanian School of Art and relocated in the old university buildings on Queen's Domain, this new, single-discipline institution included a fine art department which he was to head until his retirement in 1970.

Drawing was the foundation of Carington Smith's art and the core of his teaching: his students were given a fine grounding in the subject. He regarded the process of composing a picture, with colours, tones, lines and forms, as being akin to musical composition. The verve and spontaneity of his technique as a water-colourist gave full expression to the medium's unique character, and made him the chief inspiration in the postwar development of a distinctive Tasmanian 'school' of water-colourists.

The subjects of his oil paintings were diverse. In the 1940s he produced a number of small, simplified compositions, depicting figures on the shores of the Derwent River near his home at Sandy Bay; with their qualities of light and apparent stillness, these works evoke a timeless character. Over the following decade Carington Smith painted haunting nocturnal scenes of a moonlit Derwent, seen through the window of the artist's studio, with vague reflections from its gloomy interior fusing with what could barely be seen in the dark outside. His 1960s work was more overtly abstract, but he continued to derive his ideas from visual experience, particularly of nature. Best known for his portraiture, he strove to portray the inner life—the essence or the spirit—of his sitters.

A thickset, quietly-spoken man, with a shy, introspective manner, Carington Smith was respected both by the artistic and the wider community. Although he travelled and painted abroad in 1964 and 1967, he preferred to live in Tasmania where he felt an artistic and a personal freedom that may have been undermined elsewhere.

While Carington Smith carried considerable teaching and administrative responsibilities from 1940 to 1970, he also participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Australia and overseas. He won the Sir John Sulman prize (1949), the inaugural (1955) Women's Weekly prize for portraiture, the Archibald prize (1963) for his portrait of James McAuley, the Rubinstein prize (1966) for his painting of Leslie Greener, the Lloyd Jones memorial prize for portraiture (1969) and the Sir Warwick Fairfax (human image) prize (1971).

A member of the Society of Artists, Sydney, and of the Australian Watercolour Institute (1948), Carington Smith belonged to the Hobart and Launceston art societies. He died on 19 March 1972 at Sandy Bay and was cremated; his wife, son and two daughters survived him. One of his self-portraits (1968) was purchased in 1982 by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery; another hangs in the Carington Smith Library, Centre for the Arts, University of Tasmania. Widely considered to be the most important Tasmanian painter of the twentieth century, he is represented in every major Australian gallery. Retrospective exhibitions of his work have been held in State, university and private galleries.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Smith, Place, Taste and Tradition (Syd, 1945)
  • D. H. Skinner and J. Kroeger (eds), Renniks Australian Artists (Adel, 1968)
  • B. Smith, Australian Painting 1788-1970 (Melb, 1971)
  • S. Backhouse, Jack Carington Smith, exhibition catalogue (Hob, 1976)
  • J. Campbell, Australian Watercolour Painters 1780-1980 (Adel, 1983)
  • E. Gertzakis, Quiet Records and Careful Observations (Hob, 1985)
  • Who Was Jack Carington Smith? (film, Hobart, 1977, scripted by M. Angus)
  • Art and Australia, 10, no 3, Jan 1973, 22, no 4, June 1985.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Lindsay Broughton, 'Carington Smith, Jack (1908–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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