John Moyr Smith

John Moyr Smith
Birth and death
1839 - 1912
Profession details
Artist, Designer
Related place
Alistair Grant

John Moyr Smith was born in Glasgow as John Smith on 12th March 1839. He was the son of David Smith, a wine and spirit merchant, and his wife Margaret Moire. From c.1855-59, he was articled to James Salmon, and attended Glasgow School of Art from November 1857. Afterwards, along with William Scott Morton, he assisted James Smith on Overtoun House in Dumbarton. He later claimed that he had responsibility for Stirling's Library until December 1863 when James Smith died and Robert Grieve Melvin and his partner William Leiper took over the project. Moyr Smith probably remained with Melvin until the Stirling's Library project was almost complete.

Around this time, he adopted the middle name Moir, which he later spelled Moyr. He became a member of Alexander Thomson's circle, which included William Leiper, Bruce Talbert, and Daniel Cottier, and developed an interest in painting and the decorative arts, exhibiting 'Vivien tempting King Arthur' at the Glasgow Institute in 1862 as J M Smith.

Sometime before 1864, he moved to Manchester to assist the gothic revivalist Alfred Darbyshire for whom he worked for three years. It was around this time that Smith was associated 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 was also establishing a reputation as an illustrator in Tom Hood's 'Fun' magazine. In 1869, he visited Gustave Doré in Paris with a view to furthering his career as an illustrator. By about 1872, he had established a career as a chromo-lithograph illustrator. A list of his book numerous illustrations are given by Stapleton (see references).

In 1867, he started working part-time for Christopher Dresser, and supplied designs to the Arthur Silver Studio. Moyr Smith published his first book in 1868, 'Studies for Pictures: A Medley', which was dedicated to Dresser. That same year he was commissioned to make design the furniture and fittings for the Building News, and made designs for Bruce Talbert's studio although the extent of their working relationship is unknown.

By 1870, Moyr Smith had an extensive practice in the decorative arts, his main clients being the cabinet makers Collinson & Lock, and the ecclesiastical metalwork firm of Cox & Son, whose bronze foundry was in Thames Ditton. He also made designs for the piano maker Broadwood & Son, and ceramic manufacturers Minton & Co, W B Simpson, and Maw & Co. He also undertook decorative schemes in the USA.

Moyr Smith was tall, with a red beard and hair, and a fiery temperament. He mostly worked alone without staff. He never married, and in London, his mother and sister Christina managed his household at Walham Grove, Putney. In 1873-74 Moyr Smith designed and built himself a large studio house, called 'Doune Lodge' in Oxford Road, Putney. By 1891, he was living alone and in 1894, he moved to a smaller house in Queen's Road, Richmond. He also bought 'Oakbank Cottage', Kilcreggan where he died on 1st December 1912.

From 1880, he was editor of the magazine 'Decoration in painting, sculpture, architecture and art manufactures' published by Sampson Low. In addition to 'Studies for Pictures: A Medley' in 1868, Moyr Smith published three other important books: 'Album of Decorative Figures' in 1882; 'Ancient Greek Female Costume' in 1882; and 'Ornamental Interiors, Ancient and Modern' in 1888.


Reference: Annamarie Stapleton, John Moyr Smith, 1839-1912: A Victorian designer, 2002.

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