Born in Halifax, Yorkshire, Smith worked for several years in his father’s factory before going to Manchester School of Art to study industrial design between 1900 and 1904. He then studied at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1905 to 1907 where he was pronounced to be lacking in talent. Smith began exhibiting at the at the Salon des Independants in 1911 and then went on to exhibit widely – having his first one man show at the Mayor Gallery in 1926. He received the CBE in 1949 and was knighted in 1954.
Smith was a rich colourist (uncommon amongst English painters) whose work owed much both to his years in France and the Fauve tradition. Painting landscapes, still-life and figures, he applied the paint in bold, swift brushstrokes.
In 1957, when Crane Kalman Gallery opened on the Brompton Road, Matthew Smith had his studio across the road in Yeoman’s Row. He visited the gallery occasionally and lent paintings for exhibitions. In 1990 Crane Kalman Gallery held a tribute exhibition of his work. Mr Andras Kalman wrote:
“Art for him was not the laboured manipulation of paint on dreary themes but a celebration of life despite tragedies and ill-health. The colour orchestrations of blood-reds, blues, turquoise, mauves with unexpected yellows and greens, made his paintings - when hung adjacently to Van Gogh, Matisse, Bonnard, and the Fauve Derain in the Tate Gallery – the right place to be, amidst the ‘Masters of Colour’”.