Writers

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Bernard Smith (art historian)

1916-2011

Bernard William Smith (1916 – 2011) was an Australian art historian, art critic and academic, considered the founding father of Australian art history, and one of the country's most important thinkers. Bennie, as Smith was known when he was little, was born in 1916 in Balmain, NSW, to Rose Ann Tierney, a 26 year old unmarried, recent migrant to Australia from poverty stricken Ireland. Rose Ann organised for Tottie Keen, a foster carer in Burwood, to look after her son so she could work. After Rose Ann went to Queensland in search of better pay and contact with her brothers, ‘Mum Keen’ organised for Bennie to become a ward of the state. Inspiring teachers at Enmore High—a high school which existed for only two years for boys trying to improve their job prospects during the Great Depression—and access to the Sydney Municipal Lending Library enabled Bennie to receive a 2 year scholarship to Sydney Teacher’s College where he took Art as his speciality.


Smith taught in a small country school, and then attended the University of Sydney in 1946 at the age of 29. He’d already published his first book, Place, Taste, and Tradition in 1945. In 1948 Smith was granted a British Council scholarship to study at the University of London. Publications from that work led to his first academic appointment at the university of Melbourne in 1956, and he completed his PhD at Australian National University in 1952.