Beehives or straw bee skeps as they are traditionally called are still being used today. Skeps are essential-ly upturned straw baskets under which bees form their naturally curvy honeycomb. The Victorian Era saw the rise of the amateur naturalist. Bees were cultivated by middle class gentlemen not for honey but sci-ence. The most famous of these amateur beekeepers was Charles Darwin who kept a hive in the garden at Down House.
THE ALBUM (NOW DISMANTLED)
Bound in black with gold letters
229 drawings and watercolours previously pasted to 45 pages, includes one print and one photograph
Compiled by the artist’s daughter, Edie and her siblings in 1878
Inscribed on the frontispiece; Scraps from Sketch Books – Jas. Smetham; variously inscribed throughout the book.
Overall size of album 8 ½ x 4 ½ in. (22 x 14 cm.)
Throughout his life Smetham had suffered from bouts of mental illness but it was in the fall of 1877 that he succumbed to a debilitating attack after which he withdrew from the world, he became delusional and virtually ceased talking. Almost a year had passed since his attack when he received the album. After a decade of emotional and psychological anguish, he died on February 5, 1889.
Three letters written by his daughter Edie accompanied the album, two of the letters are addressed to Sarah her mother and the other is written and addressed to her grandmother in 1878 (during father’s ill-ness). Smetham was being looked after by Sarah at an address in Malvern, Worcestershire. On Oct-78 from the family home in Stoke Newington, and before sending the book Edie wrote a letter to her mother describing how Ted her brother, had mistakenly ordered the album to be bound in black instead of the dark green her mother wanted.
Along with the letters came three typed pages of an exhibition of Smetham’s works. The document starts with a short biography which follows with a comprehensive list of items including letters, books, journals, oil paintings, prints, drawings, watercolours and photographs. Unfortunately, there is no information to say when or where the exhibition was held.
A total of 229 works were removed from the album – some pencil, others pen and ink, chalk, watercolour and bodycolor of various sizes. There are studies of animals and botany, portraits and figure sketches and compositions for pictures, including scenes from the tempest and other romantic and fanciful subjects. His love of nature and literature along with his spiritual and scientific interests are evident in these works, but they also give us some insight into the close connection he had with his family and friends. One of Smetham’s prints are included and a photo of a painted portrait given to the artist is inscribed – to J Smetham from his friend F.J.S. – (Frederick James Shields, 1833-1911).
All works by Smetham have been removed from the album and conserved onto sheets of blue laid paper ready to be framed, except for three miniatures (squaring’s) which have been mounted and put into one frame.