THE RALPH MAYNARD SMITH TRUST___ ( Registered Charity Number : 1049843 )
Set up in 1995 to preserve and make known the works of the artist, writer and architect

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Updated July 2017

RMS Ralph Maynard Smith c. 1926   Woldingham Road to Woldingham
1. Ralph Maynard Smith. c.1926. From a Photograph.   2. “The Road to Woldingham”. 1929. Oil on paper. 9 x 12.75 inches. K.180.00. Private Collection.
Gerry 1930 ______ The Architect
3. “Gerry”. 1930. Pencil on paper. 3.5 x 5 inches. K.208.00. Drawings of the artist’s wife from a sketchbook page. RMS Trust Collection.   4. “The Architect”. 1933. Pencil and watercolour on paper. 3 x 3.375 inches. K.277.00. From “The Ravine” Vol.1

Signposts to the Man, his Journey and his Lifestyle (before the War)

RALPH MAYNARD SMITH was born in 1904.  He was the son of an English architect who had emigrated to South Africa in the late 1800s and had set up a productive architectural practice in Cape Town. RMS was educated in South Africa and England and even as a boy was devoted to drawing and painting.  In 1923, while a student at the Architectural Association in London,  he travelled to Scotland, and crossed the island of Mull on foot. He spent six weeks there, finally reaching the white shell beaches of Iona. He carried with him a rucksack containing full painting gear and the five volumes of Ruskin’s Modern Painters. He drew and painted all the way, with much of the study being around Loch Scridain. He alluded ever afterwards to the importance of those weeks, but spoke only once of the day when in the silence of the mountains a running stream talked to him. From then on his devotion to the practice of art dominated his life, but was played out in secret. But if for some reason it had to be secret, how could the artist organise his life in practice to follow this ideal and achieve concrete results?  We can only deduce what his plan may have been from the evidence of his life, which outwardly showed an unwavering consistency of purpose. He seems to have determined on a scheme that was never defined or spoken of, except tangentially in his journals. He called these journals “The Ravine”, after Van Gogh’s painting of that name, and drafted his first entries while still on Mull.

IN 1923, as well as painting, RMS was studying architecture in London.  He was one of the youngest in his year to qualify at the Architectural Association in 1925. That was followed by a year’s practical work with a London architect, which led to his associate status at the RIBA. Soon afterwards he got a permanent job with the then well-known architects Elcock & Sutcliffe, who had just had a notable success with their Art Deco Daily Telegraph building.  Later on RMS became a partner in the firm. Having landed that job in 1928, he married Geraldine Lyles and set up home in Woldingham. Their son was born in 1929 and they lived for the rest of their lives on the Surrey Downs (after a few years just moving from Woldingham to Tadworth). We see RMS’s life plan unfolding.  Practicing professionally as an architect, he gave himself a measure of security, while  devoting every leisure moment to realising his vision for painting, which he later described as follows :

“It is not my intention to imitate natural forms or natural appearances which would for me only result in absence of purpose.  I prefer rather, to hazard the employment  of these forms, as a starting point for the creation of new-born organic symbols, which symbols can be used for the free realisation of musical experience. I will suffer no restrained boundaries, thus allowing these symbols ‘to float upon their appointed paths like the themes in a musical symphony’”.

RMS from “The Ravine” Vol. 2. c.1938

AS THE 1930s progressed, so the divided lifestyle he had chosen may first have come into question. But whether because of this, or because of some innate disposition of character, or a combination of both, he suffered from depressions for most of his life. They grew more frequent in later years, and were increasingly a factor in both his own and his family’s life, not to be ignored.  They were alternately matched by a hugely infectious sense of fun, the evidence of which is preserved in the humorous drawings of his middle years.

5. “Vistas”.  1935.  Pencil on paper.  6.25 x 7.875”.  K358.00.  Collection RMS Trust. (This slight sketch could be seen as surreal ‘self-analysis’ by the artist, examining his own dilemma)

QUOTED FIRST in this Commentary is one of the artist’s own entries in his journals, describing the course of his depressions:

“Few perhaps have dwelt within an overshadowed and blackened environment for so long and survived, that I feel impelled towards the expression of its dark interior, its depth of solemn movement. To escape the nervous tension, release the gathering immense force, confirm the fanatical belief in liberation through revolt, and give free flight to its tangent inspiration.”___________________________________RMS from “The Ravine” c.1946

THE FOLLOWING COMMENTS are by Dr. Peter Tatham who is a Jungian analyst with a special interest in the psychological aspects of creativity. Exploring the implications of Maynard Smith’s lifestyle choices, he writes:

“In his private art, however, he continued to delineate and explore — whether aware of it or not — the unconscious imagery that both stated and valued his own inward, psychic ‘architecture’, by symbolic means. For however willingly he might have taken on a similar career to that of his father, and whatever his professional success, within that field, they inevitably masked that painterly self, whom he felt compelled to consign to an ‘other’ and ‘inner’ world. At the same time, from within that space, his art demanded serious and continued attention, throughout his life.

Anything ‘split’, has been riven, cleft or divided: leading to an inevitable tension remaining between the two walls of any such resulting gap, or chasm. Maynard Smith was well aware  of this (unconsciously so, at the very least) when naming the first two of his ‘commonplace’ books “The Ravine”. Over the years he would fill both of them with landscape sketches, as well as quotations and other jottings: all of the greatest importance to him.

The dictionary describes the word ‘ravine’ as: ‘a deep, narrow, hollow or gorge, a mountain cleft … worn by a torrent (OED). Such a torrent well describes the unquenchable flow of Maynard Smith’s creative imagination, whether expressed by means of a ruler and set-square, or with pencil and paintbrush. Yet it is important to hold in mind that a ravine is never a total split, for its walls meet at the bottom (a union) as well as allowing for progression along its floor, towards a possible exit. All progress was to be made only by passing through that narrow cleft. In addition there exists a potential for union, arising from below, so that any such cleft might be filled and abolished, leading to a wider view.”

Shadowed Foreground
6.  Shadowed Foreground with Distant Headlands.  1950.  Charcoal.  7.75” x 13”.  K1249.00.  Private Collection

Signposts to the Man, his Journey and his Lifestyle (during and after the War)

MAYNARD SMITH continued working in London throughout the war years, reserved from military action because of his  indispensable work designing hospitals and other building works of national importance, including war damage. Adhering to deeply felt principles, RMS did not fight for recognition of his manifold contributions to so many architectural schemes; more evident was the distress of his wife Gerry on his behalf in such matters. However, in his journals he did from time to time record his scorn at fellow-professional ‘climbers’.  He had an exceptional ability to design in three-dimensions and solve problems with practical solutions. To all outward appearances he led an entirely uneventful life, and his post-war public commitments are best followed up on the “Ancillary Archive (Architecture) page, while the flowering of his secret work as an artist can be traced on the “Gallery”, “Archive (Drawings & Paintings)” and  “Ancillary Archive (Writings)” pages.

A LIFE-LONG heavy smoker, RMS underwent a lung operation in 1962 from which he never fully recovered.  Although in the aftermath jotting down new and innovative design concepts, the last major job of his public professional life had imposed ten years of unremitting stress, and he was not able to rally sufficient strength to lead his team forward. He resigned in 1963. In his private world, right up to his last painting trip to Wales in 1961, RMS was exploring new ideas. In the eighteen months of convalescence after his illness, it was as if, for the first time, he stood still at the end of the long path he had trodden since 1923 in Mull. Only two or three drawings appeared after the 1961 Welsh series. He died suddenly and unexpectedly on Christmas Day 1964.


Prelude to storm Hand in hand
7. “Prelude to Storm”. c.1925. Watercolour on paper. 6.5 x 9.75 inches. K.125.00. Collection:  University of Hull Art Collection Prelude to Storm

8. “Hand in Hand with the Musician”. 1927. Watercolour .9.75 x 13.5 inches. K.148.00. Collection: RMS Trust

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Gerry 1930 The Architect Hand in Hand Vistas Shadowed Foreground Prelude to Storm