James Smith

Paisley, Scotland, 1831 - 1923 Blundellsands, Liverpool


'Fleeting Love', Auguste Rodin

'Fleeting Love', Auguste Rodin

James Smith was one of Rodin's greatest enthusiasts in Britain. By 1907 he owned more works by the sculptor than any other British public or private collection. He arrived in Liverpool in 1851, poor and young, but found success as a wine merchant, pioneering the import of Mediterranean wines. Smith's business took him to Paris and his second wife, Betty, could write in French.

Between 1899 and 1907 they bought six Rodin sculptures, which his widow gave to the Walker Art Gallery in 1923 and 1927, along with an art collection of over 100 works. This included 18 prints by the American artist James Whistler (1834-1903), 28 paintings by George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), some of which are on display in Room 8, and a large collection of northern landscapes by Liverpool-born Daniel Williamson (1823-1903), two of which are shown in Room 6. The collection was described at the time as "one of the most notable bequests of works of art ever made to the city". Such a large gift spurred the city council to build an extension to the Walker opened in 1933.

Smith started his collection of Rodin sculptures in 1899 with 'Fleeting Love' a small figure group typical of the bronze statuettes that attracted other British collectors. In September 1903 when Smith visited Rodin's studio in Paris for the first time he already owned four works and was so impressed with 'The Death of Athens' that he immediately ordered a version in marble. Symbolically this was the most complex and, at 12,000 francs, the most expensive work by Rodin that Smith bought. By 26th October 1903 it had been delivered to The Knowle, Smith's large house in Blundellsands, where he had lived since 1881. Thereafter Smith and Rodin corresponded and met frequently in Paris and London. Rodin also supplied Smith with two turntables for the 'Danaid' and 'Death of Athens' on which he could display and spin them around to admire these female figures from all sides.