Sydney Ure Smith, publisher and artist, was born on 9 January 1887 at Stoke Newington, London, son of John Smith, steward with the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co., and his wife Elizabeth Catherine, née Ure. The family reached Melbourne in 1889 and soon became known as Ure Smith although neither John nor Sydney formalized this change.While John managed Menzies’ Hotel, Ure Smith junior attended Queen’s College, St Kilda. His father became manager of the Hotel Australia in 1901. Sydney, while at Sydney Grammar School, produced The Kat (1901-02) and Australia Kat (1902-03), cyclostyled gossipy broadsheets aimed at the hotel clientele. In 1902 he began five years at Julian Ashton’s art classes and specialised in pen and pencil drawing. In 1903 he published the students’ magazine, The Palette, which included illustrations by Viola Austral Quaife, granddaughter of Rev. Barzillai Quaife, whom he married on 6 May 1909 at Paddington; her sister Ethelwyn married (Sir) Charles Lloyd Jones.
Ure Smith’s lifelong attempt to incorporate quality art and design with technically advanced printing began in 1906 when he and the cartoonist Harry Julius founded Smith & Julius, which was arguably the earliest advertising agency to feature outstanding artwork and colour printing; they set new standards for Australian advertising and provided work for artists including J. Muir Auld, Percy Leason, Roland Wakelin, Lloyd Rees and, later, Adrian Feint and John Passmore. Ure Smith remained active in Smith & Julius until 1923. To help Jesse Hilder’s widow, with Hartland & Hyde, photo-engravers, he devised a way of including quality coloured reproductions in the Hilder exhibition catalogue in 1916. It proved so popular that the same year Ure Smith launched the periodical Art in Australia, which although didactic was profusely illustrated and played a vital part in displaying Australian art. In 1920 with backing from Lloyd Jones, J. R. McGregor and Ernest Watt, he established the publishing company, Art in Australia Ltd. Its other major periodical was the Home (1920-42), which fostered ‘good taste’ in contemporary architecture, interior design, photography and graphic design, with covers usually by Thea Proctor or Hera Roberts. Ure Smith sold the company to John Fairfax & Sons Ltd in 1934, reluctantly severed his connexion with his magazines in 1938 and founded Ure Smith Pty Ltd in 1939. He ultimately published over 130 items and six periodicals. While his publications favoured members of the Society of Artists, Sydney, they also included Harold Cazneaux’s photography, Donald Friend’s Painter’s Journal (1946) and significantly Robert Croll’s edition of Sir Arthur Streeton’s letters to Tom Roberts, Smike to Bulldog (1946), and Bernard Smith’s provocative book, Place, Taste and Tradition (1945).
The years under Julian Ashton remained the major well for Ure Smith’s aesthetic views and friendships because, unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not travel overseas until 1933, after his career was firmly established. Although he did occasional work for the Bulletin and Lone Hand and illustrated a few novels, he never became an illustrator in the Bulletin tradition. After he informally studied etching with Eirene Mort and perhaps Lionel Lindsay, he produced etchings of old buildings mainly in and around Sydney and colour-wash pencil drawings which are probably his most refined and individualistic work. While produced and sold as single items, they were also used as adjuncts to articles or combined in limited-edition books such as Old Sydney (1911) and Old Colonial By-Ways (1928) with texts by Charles Bertie. His choice of subject-matter was partly an attempt to foster conservation of Australia’s colonial heritage. Although Ure Smith established his position among artists through publishing, he displayed his leadership qualities as president of the Society of Artists (1921-48). Unlike his friends the Lindsays and Hans Heysen he encouraged new members and advocated measured progress in Australian art. He had opened the 1919 Wakelin-de Maistre exhibition and in 1923 supported the award of the society’s travelling scholarship to de Maistre. That year he arranged the controversial Exhibition of Australian Art at Burlington House, London, for the Society of Artists: a group of Victorian artists applied for a court injunction to prevent the exhibition leaving without further selections and a deputation waited on Albert Bruntnell, minister of public instruction, asking for the exclusion of Norman Lindsay’s works on moral grounds.Ure Smith also supported the Contemporary Group in Sydney, the Melbourne Herald Exhibition of French and British Contemporary Art (1939) and imported works by Matisse and Derain for the society’s exhibitions, but abstract art fell beyond his toleration.
After suffering poor health, he died at his Potts Point home of coronary occlusion on 11 October 194.
Reference Nancy D. H. Underhill Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11,
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