Interview with Henrietta Abel Smith

At Cape Cod Cellars, we always want to hear from prominent individuals in the artistic, business, entertainment, literary, and sports communities. Curious to hear what they are up to and of course, anything about wine and the lifestyle they wish to share.

Today we are pleased to be joined by renowned artist Henrietta Abel Smith.

Tim: Henrietta, thank you for joining us today.

Henrietta: Absolutely, my pleasure.

Tim: Well, we obviously know a little about your work but could you tell us a little bit about how you got started?

Henrietta: Sure, my parents discouraged me from a career in art as they thought it wouldn’t be a secure enough job. My mother was an artist and my great great great great grandfather was President of the Royal Academy of Art in London so I suppose it was in my blood. I pursued my undergraduate degree at Newcastle University and actually made money on the side doing sketches of people’s pets (dogs).  By then I knew that one way or another I had to pursue art.

Tim: I understand you received formal training in Florence?

Henrietta: Yes, I did my research on the best places to go that teach the old traditions and decided to go to Florence where I studied for 3 years in Charles Cecil Studios. It was a very disciplined approach; No painting or live models the entire first year-just charcoal drawing from plaster casts!

Tim: I imagine sneaking off to the Uffizi was quite tempting?

Henrietta: It definitely was. It was so inspiring to study with all that incredible art and architecture on the doorstep as well as being surrounded by so many people also passionate about art. I am still friends with many of them today.

Tim: And there are some good vineyards in Italy?

Henrietta: Oh, so many lovely places to go. Actually, I went to a wedding at a vineyard in Italy when I lived there. This experience encouraged me to organize a “hen” party or bachelorette party as they say in the states in Italy with friends. Our wine tasting started in the morning followed by cycle riding in the country. Great fun and we made it back OK!

Tim: Sounds like a scene from a movie. Back to you, do you prefer painting your own ideas, creative concepts or prefer someone coming to you?

Henrietta: I enjoy a bit of a mix. It is a great joy working with people and the collaboration that entails. I work mostly from life (for young children I use photos purely for ease of the experience for everyone!)  but most of my commissions on portraits are sittings.  I also love working with models as then I can explore ideas without any pressure on how it will turn out.

Tim: How long do the paintings usually take?

Henrietta: Head & Shoulder portraits are usually 4-5 sittings and each sitting is about two to three hours. Clients find it very relaxing. You really get to know the person in that time and I have forged some great friendships with my sitters.

Tim: That’s wonderful. So curious, Oil v. Charcoal?

Henrietta: Depends what mood I am in. Charcoal drawing can be quite meditative without having to have too much concentration on paint quality, etc.

Tim: You’re active in the community. What is the Art for Charity Collective?

Henrietta: Oh a lovely friend of mine, Lucy Kent, decided during the first wave of Covid to raise some money for her local hospice by auctioning off some artworks on Instagram.  It did so well that she has organized two more auctions for two more charities. The last one had 82 artists (some very well known and some celebrities) donate work and so far they have raised over £92,000 for charity.  It was done live on Instagram and people sitting at home with a bottle of wine and bid. It was great fun.

Tim: Auctions go better with wine.

Henrietta: Oh yes they do.

Tim: Do you like Red or White?

Henrietta: I love red.

Tim: May I ask about some of your notable works?

Henrietta: Sure

Tim: Who is Carmella? Beautiful portrait.

Henrietta: She is a dear friend of mine, an incredible businesswoman and singer.  I did that a few years back.

Tim: Page of Honour to the Queen

Henrietta: That was a commission from the Royal Family and I don’t think I can say much more than that.

Tim: Understood. How about Gus Stanhope with the sailing ship?

Henrietta: It was a commission from the boy’s grandfather. I spent 8 days up in Scotland painting him and with the family, we came up with the idea of the sailing ship in the background. It’s lovely in children’s portraits for them to be doing something rather than just sitting there a bit awkwardly!

Tim: What do you like to do in addition to portraits?

Henrietta: I love still life. I adore nature and grew up horseback riding at my parent’s cottage in the Cotswolds where the gardens are quite beautiful. I would always stop and pick flowers. In fact, when I started out as an artist, I didn’t know how many portrait commissions a month I might have so I would always paint still life’s as a way to keep busy. I would love to do more landscapes, seascapes, nautical. It is different though. Same basics-but aspects to landscapes are different.

Tim: I imagine you pay significant attention, as wineries and vineyards do, … to quality, storage, and preservation…those types of matters?

Henrietta: Oh yes, I have insurance at the studio and I am mindful of preservation.

A lot of old paintings have stood the test of time and some have not. One needs to know the longevity of the pigments you are using, how to apply the solvents and oils in the right manner to avoid cracking, and to make sure that the surface you are painting on is sealed correctly before being painted on.  In the end, I always varnish my paintings which helps to protect them.

Tim: Vintners are meticulous about what grape gets stored in an oak barrel v steel drums …so I get it.

Tim: Is there anyone famous you would like to paint?

Henrietta: I would love to paint the Queen. That would be quite an honor.

Tim: Curious, ever paint with a glass of wine?

Henrietta: Oh yes, I live in my studio and often paint into the night.  It’s quite relaxing to have a glass or two and it brings out subtle creativity and thoughtfulness.

Tim: Anything else besides red wine?

Henrietta: I like gin and tonic and in particular with Damsons and Sloe’s. They are plum-like wild fruits and at our country estate in the Cotswolds, we store them in mason jars and mix them with gin or vodka.

Tim: Henrietta Abel Smith, thank you for joining us. Love talking with people who love what they do. Our sommelier friend that we talked with last month was similar. Have a great weekend.

Henrietta: Absolutely. My pleasure Tim

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