Henry Pember Smith was born in Waterford, Connecticut in 1854. As no record exists of his formal training, he is thought to have been self-taught. Little is known of Smith's life before he began exhibiting at the National Academy of Design in 1877. Throughout the last two decades of the nineteenth century, he also exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Club, the Boston Art Club, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He was adept in both oil and watercolor.
The artist traveled extensively during the 1880s, particularly in Italy and the United Kingdom, in part to study old master paintings first-hand. He did paint some panoramic landscapes, particularly of the Connecticut River Valley, and sometimes dramatic marine works, but his favorite subjects were the canals of Venice and his "homestead," featuring cottage, trees and a duck-pond.
Although he is generally regarded a "realist" somewhat at odds with the Impressionist currents of his time, many of his paintings show a soft-edged style achieved by a delicate scumbling at the border of the forms, particularly in the massing of foliage. This, together with the limited palette of some of his works and the subtle tonal shifts, would seem to align him more closely with the movement for "painting softly," which developed in America in the 70's and 80's in the wake of George Inness and James McNeill Whistler. (See Like Breath on Glass, ed. Marc Simpson, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, 2008.)
Works by Henry Pember Smith can be viewed in the Newark Museum, the Butler Institute of Art, the Chrysler Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the Hudson River Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the George Walter Vincent Smith Museum, among others.