Albert Rosenthal, Portrait of Charles Knox Smith
Charles Knox Smith (1845 −1916) was a leading voice in the arts, industry, and politics of Philadelphia in his time. He built a fortune in the mining industry, was a member of the city’s Common Council (the precursor to today’s City Council), and was a passionate art collector. He lived in an urban part of Philadelphia before purchasing the Woodmere estate in the 1890s where he chose to build his museum because of his belief that encountering art in the context of nature is a spiritual experience.
Working with local architect George Howe (1886-1955), Smith built dramatic new galleries at Woodmere, now our Catherine M. Kuch Gallery and Dorothy J. Del Bueno Balcony Gallery. He opened Woodmere to the public in 1910 and, three years later, commissioned the celebrated artist Albert Rosenthal to paint his portrait in the context of his new museum. Smith is depicted with objects that convey his sophistication and worldliness: an ornate Chinese-import table, a connoisseur's monocle, a Japanese ivory figurine, and a beautiful cameo-glass vase. The figurine and vase are part of Woodmere's collection.
On the wall behind Smith appears an important work of art he owned: Sir Thomas Lawrence's Portrait of Mrs. John Julius (Elizabeth) Angerstein. Together with her husband and with the assistance of American expatriate artist Benjamin West, Elizabeth Angerstein amassed the collection of paintings that became the founding collection of the National Gallery of Art in London. The reference to Angerstein expresses Smith’s hope that his museum, founded with his collection, would grow to become a great civic institution.
Rosenthal studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He advised Smith’s purchases for his museum and enjoyed the patronage of Philadelphia’s social and political elite at the turn of the century. Many of his portraits hang in City Hall, and Smith, who was a member of the Philadelphia Common Council (the forerunner of today’s City Council), may have become acquainted with the artist there.