In recent years the work of Ismael Smith (Barcelona, 1886 – White Plains, New York, 1972) has been the subject of renewed appreciation placing him among the most relevant Catalan artists of the early 20th century. He was linked to the Noucentista movement proclaimed by Eugenio d’Ors which hailed its Mediterranean roots. However, he felt simultaneously attracted to symbolism and the decadent style of Aubrey Beardsley which inspired many of his drawings of dandy’s and high society personages.
Smith worked as an illustrator for the magazines El Gràfic, La Campana de Gràcia, Mercurio, Papitu, ¡Cu-Cut!, La Ilustració Catalana and Picarol. Thanks to a grant he received from Barcelona City Hall he was able to live in Paris in 1910 and took part in the city’s cosmopolitan scene. His drawings appeared in publications such as Journal des Dames and Revue des Élégances Féminines. Upon his return to Spain during the First World War, he worked in Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville.
One of the reasons Smith’s work had been forgotten was the troubled circumstances of his final years. In 1919 he moved to New York where his brothers had businesses. He returned to Europe in 1926 but moved back to the United States permanently in 1930. Determined to find a cure for cancer he fell into an obsessive spiral and died at a psychiatric institution. During this final period he produced harrowing sculptures in an expressionist style.