About the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum
The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum is one of the two Springfield Museums dedicated to fine and decorative arts. It represents the personal taste and Victorian aesthetic of the collector whose name it bears. The museum was built in 1895 in the style of an elegant Italian villa and opened to the public in 1896 as the “Art Museum.”
Smith made his fortune as a carriage manufacturer in New York City and retired when he was just 35 years old. He and his Springfield-born wife, Belle Townsley Smith, moved to Springfield in 1871 and devoted their lives to collecting art. Although Smith never visited Asia, by buying from dealers in New York and Europe he became a leading 19th-century collector of Chinese, Japanese and Middle Eastern art, and also amassed an outstanding selection of 19th-century American paintings.
Little is known about the details of Smith's life. He was a very private person, and after his death his wife disposed of a number of diaries and letters that did not pertain directly to their art collections. The couple had no children and there are no known family descendants. George Walter Vincent Smith's legacy is this museum. The ashes of Smith and his wife are interred inside a wall on the second floor of the museum.
The museum was built in 1895 in the style of an elegant Italian villa and opened to the public in 1896 as the “Art Museum.”
The Museum Exhibits
The Smiths acquired an extensive collection of Japanese arms and armor, including many fine examples from the time of the Samurai; Japanese ivory carvings, intricate lacquers, decorative and utilitarian ceramics; and the largest collection of Chinese cloisonné in the Western world. A focal point of the collection is an elaborately carved Shinto shrine.
The collection of Middle Eastern rugs is ranked among the top ten in the United States. While oriental rugs were an important part of most Victorian collections, they were usually treated as furnishings. Smith, however, considered rugs to be art objects and hung many of them on the walls next to paintings, elevating them to equal status with the “fine” arts.
Throughout his life G.W.V. Smith supported the American artists of his time. Some of the earliest art works he bought were paintings by artists he knew in New York City in the late 1850s and early 1860s. The Smith collection is especially strong in landscape paintings, particularly those by Hudson River School artists, fine genre paintings, and seascapes by A. T. Bricher. The museum holds the largest collection of works by J.G. Brown (1831-1913) in a public museum, including the much-reproduced painting,The Berry Boy.
Classical and Renaissance art is represented in the museum's rare collection of 48 plaster casts. In Victorian America's art museums, casts provided what was for most visitors the only contact with ancient sculpture. The casts in the G.W.V. Smith Art Museum are remarkably accurate reproductions of these masterpieces, made from molds taken directly from the originals.
Hasbro Games Art Discovery Center
The bright and colorful Hasbro Games Art Discovery Center offers hands-on activities that introduce children and families to the museum’s Asian collections. Children can make their own Asian-inspired art, take part in craft activities, and try on costumes of Samurais, Sultans, and Victorian gentry.
Volunteers are always welcome to oversee our Art Discovery Center!
To learn more about getting involved, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 413.263.6800, ext. 385.