Wilson-Smith, Timothy 1936-

views updated

WILSON-SMITH, Timothy 1936-

PERSONAL: Born April 14, 1936, in Gerrards Cross, Bucks, England; son of Henry (a civil servant and manager) and Molly (a homemaker; maiden name, Dyson) Wilson-Smith; married Pamela Elizabeth Starrett (a painter, interpreter, and teacher), July 31, 1965; children: Pascale, Noelle, Dominique. Education: Peterhouse, Cambridge, B.A. (history), 1957, M.A., 1961, educational studies, 1963-64; London University, B.A. (English), 1973. Studied religion at Downside Abbey and Collegio, Rome, 1957-62. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Singing, squash and tennis, languages, film.

ADDRESSES: Home—Rowlatt House, Willowbrook, Eton, Windsor, Berkshire SL4 6HL, England.

CAREER: Art historian, educator. Stansted Secondary Modern School, Essex, England, teacher, 1962-63; Eton College, Windsor, England, teacher, 1964—. St. Paul's School, Concord, NH, teacher, 1977-78.

MEMBER: Society of Authors, The Johnson Society.


Delacroix: A Life, Constable (London, England), 1992.

Napoleon and His Artists, Constable (London, England), 1996.

Caravaggio, Phaidon (London, England), 1998.

Napoleon: Man of War, Man of Peace, Carroll and Graf (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor to periodicals, including Downside Review and History Today.

SIDELIGHTS: In Delacroix: A Life Timothy Wilson-Smith approaches the subject of his biography, painter Eugene Delacroix, from a topical, rather than a chronological, point of view. According to Peter Campbell in the London Review of Books, "the consequent loss of narrative drive is a price worth paying for better orientation." A prominent nineteenth-century French artist associated with Romanticism (a movement that stressed the importance of the individual and featured works of an emotional nature), Eugene Delacroix painted dramatic, sometimes violent, scenes based on the works of such figures as Dante, Goethe, and Shakespeare, as well as on historical themes. His 1831 painting Liberty Leading the People, which portrays the bare-bosomed Marianne—French tricolor flag in one hand, musket in the other—rallying an army of citizens over the bodies of the slain, is perceived by many as an evocation of revolutionary fervor. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Lee Johnson found Delacroix: A Life to be "a generally sound and very readable account." Wilson-Smith, he pointed out, "is especially skilful at evaluating the relationships between Delacroix and his contemporaries," which included such literary figures as Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire. In his writing on the art itself, Wilson-Smith "seems more at home with words than with visual images," Johnson noted. "Rather than examining the style or technique of the major paintings, he tends to appraise their significance in literary terms: thus … Medea is 'enfolded in humanity's tragic destiny.'" Although he cited certain errors in the biography, Johnson nonetheless concluded that these are "minor criticisms." Campbell, reflecting on Delacroix's own prolific writing, decided that "like any biography of Delacroix, Wilson-Smith's must stand in the shadow of the journals and letters." The reviewer conceded, however, that the author "has constructed a useful, workmanlike modern frame for that great but incomplete self-portrait."

In Napoleon and His Artists, Wilson-Smith follows Napoleon's patronage of the arts and shows how painters, sculptors, and architects produced propaganda for the empire. Wilson-Smith followed with Caravaggio, a biography of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), whose short life was violent and controversial and whose realism-filled works were shocking to his contemporaries. Wilson-Smith provides commentaries to accompany his most famous masterpieces, as well as an account of the artist's life and artistic development.

Wilson-Smith returns to a previous subject in Napoleon: Man of War, Man of Peace, called "intellectually satisfying" by the London Daily Telegraph reviewer Andrew Roberts. The first twelve chapters of the volume document Bonaparte's military campaigns, while the final eight study his influence on French and European life and the legacy that is reflected in the history of French portrait painting and the evolution of French government. A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented positively on Wilson-Smith's analyses of nineteenth-century portraits of the emperor and the "occasional detail with a keen edge or a crisp sentence [that] animates the text." Wilson-Smith writes that Bonaparte "disliked clever women and suspected that those who could look after themselves were not truly feminine." A Contemporary Review writer concluded by calling Napoleon "an enjoyable study by an author who has a 'love-hate' relationship with his subject: perhaps this is the only view anyone who really knows Napoleon can have."

Wilson-Smith once told CA: "My main interest in writing is to communicate my love of English literature and French painting to as wide an audience as possible, especially young people. The places I love most are, in England, the Bloomsbury, Marylebone, and Piccadilly areas of London, Cambridge, parts of the southwest, and the Thames valley; in France, Paris, Normandy, and Brittany (my wife's home area is Saint-Malo); in Italy, Rome, Assisi, and Florence; in Spain, Seville; and in the United States, New Hampshire and Virginia. I mention places because my love of the past is tied to place as well as time, to languages through which I can communicate, as well as sights I enjoy and books I can read. All my writing springs out of the landscape, and I am also passionately interested in the relationship between the sounds of words and music and visual experiences, hence to me the greatest artistic invention of the present century is film. I hope to write for television as well as for the reading public and to talk to the listening public. I have wanted to write since childhood, began writing at the age of forty and got published in my mid-fifties. My experience is that it pays to persevere."



Books, June, 1996, review of Napoleon and His Artists, p. 21.

Choice, March, 1998, review of Napoleon and His Artists, p. 1184.

Contemporary Review, September, 1998, review of Napoleon and His Artists, p. 164; January, 2003, review of Napoleon: Man of War, Man of Peace, p. 62.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), October 26, 2002, Andrew Roberts, review of Napoleon, p. 5.

History Today, April, 1996, review of Napoleon and His Artists, p. 55.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2002, review of Napoleon, p. 1519.

London Review of Books, January 28, 1993, Peter Campbell, review of Delacroix: A Life p. 17.

Oldie, September 18, 1992.

Times Literary Supplement, November 20, 1992, Lee Johnson, review of Delacroix; July 18, 1997, review of Napoleon and His Artists, p. 21.*

About this article

Wilson-Smith, Timothy 1936-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article