Smith, John Moyr

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Smith, John Moyr

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John Moyr Smith was born in Glasgow as John Smith on 12 March 1839, the son of David Smith, wine and spirit merchant, and his wife Margaret Moire. Some sources state that the family came from northern England but his mother came from Kirkaldy (not traced), Doune, Perthshire. He appears to have been articled to James Salmon c.1855-59, thereafter working as an assistant for James Smith on Overtoun House, Dumbarton, along with William Scott Morton. During those years he adopted the middle name of Moir, later spelled Moyr, attended Glasgow School of Art from November 1857 and became president of the Glasgow Architectural (Assistants) Association of which Robert Grieve Melvin was treasurer. By his own account he was wholly responsible for Smith's Stirling's Library until December 1863 when Smith died and Melvin and his partner William Leiper took over the project. During his time on the Overtoun and Stirling's Library projects Moyr Smith became a member of Alexander Thomson's circle - which at that date included Leiper, Bruce Talbert, and Daniel Cottier - and began developing an interest in painting and the decorative arts: he was presumably the J M Smith at 295 Hope Street who exhibited 'Vivien tempting King Arthur' at the Glasgow Institute in 1862. The catalogue records that it had been acquired by Robert Dalglish MP. Moyr Smith probably remained with Melvin until the Stirling's Library project was nearly complete, but sometime before 1864 he moved to Manchester as assistant to the gothicist Alfred Darbyshire with whom he remained for three years. It was probably during this period that Smith first became acquainted with the artist and designer Henry Stacey Marks. In 1866 Moyr Smith moved to London as assistant to George Gilbert Scott, but by that date he had already established a reputation as an illustrator in Tom Hood's 'Fun' magazine and by about 1867 he had commenced 'temporary service' for Christopher Dresser and begun supplying designs to the Arthur Silver Studio. Moyr Smith's first book, 'Studies for Pictures: A Medley' (1868), was dedicated to Dresser, and in the following year, 1869, he visited Gustave Doré in Paris, probably with a view to furthering his career as an illustrator. In 1868 Moyr Smith was commissioned to make designs for furniture and fittings for the Building News and by about 1872 he established a career as a chromo-lithograph illustrator, some of his biblical scenes having markedly Thomsonesque detail. He also made designs for Bruce Talbert's studio although the relationship between their practices has not been precisely established. From 1880 he was editor of the magazine 'Decoration in painting, sculpture, architecture and art manufactures' published by Sampson Low. From about 1870 Moyr Smith had an extensive commercial practice in the decorative arts, his main clients being the cabinetmakers Collinson & Lock and Cox & Son, the piano-maker Broadwood & Son and the tile and ceramic manufacturers Minton & Co (later Minton Hollins & Co), W B Simpson & Sons, and Maw & Co. He also undertook decorative schemes, not merely in Britain but also in the USA, the most ambitious of these being the Holloway Sanatorium, Virginia Water, in 1877-78. Some of these were undertaken in association with John Gregory Crace and John Dibblee Crace. It is probable that some of his clients for such work were Scottish, but no work in Scotland has as yet been traced. In person Moyr Smith was tall, bearded and red-haired, and according to D S McColl 'fiery in temperament'. He appears to have worked alone without staff. He never married, and in his earlier London years his household was managed by his mother and unmarried sister Christina. Initially they lived at Walham Grove, Putney, but in 1873-74 Moyr Smith designed and built a large studio house, Doune Lodge, in Oxford Road, Putney, which had notable interiorwork. By 1891 he was living alone and in 1894 he moved to a smaller house, Bloomfield in Queen's Road, Richmond. In these later years he renewed his links with the Ferguson family in Lenzie and bought Oakbank Cottage, Kilcreggan where he died on 1 December 1912. Moyr Smith published four important books: 'Studies for Pictures: A Medley' (1868); 'Album of Decorative Figures' (1882); 'Ancient Greek Female Costume' (1882); and 'Ornamental Interiors, Ancient and Modern' (1888). He also illustrated a great many others: a comprehensive list is given in Stapleton.


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