The Allure of Italy: Late 19th-century Italian Watercolors at the Michele & Donald D'Amour Museum of Fine Arts

The Allure of Italy: Late 19th-century Italian Watercolors

October 28, 2008–October 25, 2009 D'Amour Museum of Fine Arts » First Floor » Starr Gallery of Watercolors

Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, Starr Watercolor Gallery, First Floor

An exhibition of seldom-displayed watercolors collected by George Walter Vincent Smith between 1884 and 1887.


Venice was a popular destination for European and American artists and tourists. There was a great demand for paintings of Italian scenes, and New York art dealers frequently sent American artists to Venice to paint the canals. The artists sold the paintings to American tourists as souvenirs of their travels. Italian artists also painted works created with tourists in mind.


While traveling in Venice on the European Grand Tour, George Walter Vincent Smith and his wife, Belle Townsley Smith, purchased many paintings that depicted scenes of everyday life and the common people rather than the great monuments of the city. Mr. Smith frequented the artists’ studios in search of the best work and was not above taking any advantage to acquire a painting. When an outbreak of cholera spread through Europe and many travelers and natives retreated from the area, Smith took the opportunity to make many of his purchases. In a letter to Mr. Mills, a fellow collector, Smith wrote,


I have had the field quite to myself. Everybody going away has caused business of all kinds to languish and also left some of the most excellent commissions upon the easels of the very best artists uncalled for. So I just stepped in when others went out and purchased some of the very best things which just before were not at any command at any price.


Smith devoted much of his life to collecting. In 1878, the Smiths agreed to build a museum to house their large collection. In 1896, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum opened its doors. The Smiths lived on Chestnut Street where the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts is now located.