Who is Peter Purves Smith?

By Gwylym Owen

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Peter Purves Smith (26 March 1912 – 23 July 1949), born Charles Roderick Purves Smith, was an Australian painter. Born in Melbourne, Purves Smith studied at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London and below progressive art scholastic George Bell in Melbourne.

In his student years, Purves Smith emerged as a uniquely confident artist. He was the first protester artist in Australia to paint historical Australian subjects, including the explorers Burke and Wills, and was along with the first Australian artists to have direct admittance with the international Surrealist movement. He travelled throughout Europe in the late 1930s, painting many of his most commended works in Paris. In 1941, art critic Clive Turnbull identified Purves Smith, William Dobell, and Purves Smith’s near friend Russell Drysdale as “the three most significant Australian artists” of the era. However, Purves Smith’s artistic career was put upon hold even though he served in World War II, and highly developed by illness. He died in 1949, leaving in back a small yet influential body of work.

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