Mary Keene, Smith's friend and favourite model from the 1940s onwards, was named heir to his estate upon his death in 1959, and in 1973 she bequeathed her collection of more than 1,000 paintings, drawings, watercolours and sketchbooks to the City of London Corporation. They now comprise the Sir Matthew Smith Collection at the Guildhall Art Gallery; this includes an oil portrait of Diana Marsh along with two sketches of her.
Diana Marsh was a teenager when she sat for Smith for a small series of portraits in 1950. She wrote to the artist from her school in Jamaica on 6th December 1950: 'You seem to believe that sitting for you is an unendurable hardship, and that I was undergoing more or less of a marathon at the studio ... I spent more time eating the delicious chocolates you gave me than sitting.'
Born in Halifax in 1879 Matthew Smith worked in Manchester before persuading his parents to allow him to enrol in the Art Department of the Manchester School of Technology in 1901. He received considerable accolades during this period and in 1905 he moved to London to study at the Slade School.
In 1908 Smith made his first trip to France and visited Pont Aven in Brittany, he then travelled extensively throughout France for the next two years finally settling in Paris where, in 1911, he studied briefly at the Atelier Matisse.
In 1912 he married and then moved to Grèz-sur-Loing where he remained until 1914 when the outbreak of the First World War forced him to stay in London and take a studio in Fitzroy Street. In 1916 he met Walter Sickert, a near neighbour, and exhibited for the first time with the London Group with whom he was associated for many years becoming a member in 1920.
With the escalation of hostilities in France Smith was mobilised and in 1917 he went to France where he fought at Ypres and Arras but was severely wounded and returned to England. After the War he returned to France and settled once again in Grèz where he met and developed a lifelong friendship with Roderick O'Connor. Although he frequently visited England Smith spent the next ten years living and travelling in France and Italy eventually returning to London in 1940. During World War II both Smith's sons were killed and, separated from his wife, he lived an increasingly solitary existence. He was knighted in 1954.
Throughout his career Matthew Smith contributed to numerous exhibitions including the Salon des Independents in Paris (1911), the Mayor Gallery in London, where he held his first solo exhibition in 1929, and he exhibited at Reid and Lefevre and Arthur Tooth and Sons. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Tate Gallery in 1953 and in 1960, the year after his death, the Royal Academy staged a memorial exhibition. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Barbican Art Gallery, London in 1983.
The impact of Smith's work lies principally in its use of colour: strong, brilliant contrasts with paint laid on generously and confidently. For he was a gifted and sensual colourist, and was equally attracted to the work of Old Masters as he was to Gauguin and the French Fauve painters. Despite living for an extended period in Paris, his early work, especially the Fitzroy Street nudes and Cornish landscapes, belong to the development of Post-Impressionism in Britain. These works possess a muscular vigour and directness quite alien to the predominant styles of painting in Britain at the time and are still remarkable for their immediacy. Smith's work was an important influence upon the next generation of British painters, including Francis Bacon who said of Smith: 'I very much admire Matthew Smith ... He seems to me to be one of the very few English painters since Constable and Turner to be concerned with painting.'