Michael Smee (b. 1946)

Brown Bar–Amsterdam, 1986, Watercolour on paper, 16 ¼ x 24 ½ in, Signed and dated

[CAS 46] Acquired in 1987


Michael Smee (b. 1946)

Untitled, Oil on canvas, 98 x 98 cm

[CAS 70A]

Painted on reverse of Untitled Joyce Pallot [CAS 70]



Michael “Mick” Smee was born in Chelmsford in 1946. After school in Chelmsford and Billericay, he went on to study at Colchester School of Art from 1961 to 1965. There he obtained a diploma in Design and Fine Art. Straight after Art School he joined Birmingham Repertory Theatre as a designer and scenic artist. At the same time, he occasionally moonlighted at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-Upon-Avon. In 1967 he moved to London to work at The Royal Opera House, when Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev were principal dancers. This was an exciting time. A year later, in 1968,

Mick joined Thames Television as a scenic artist, making backdrops and matte glass shots (1). Whilst at Thames TV, he worked on Adrian McKinty's adaptation THE SUN IS GOD, a major film on the life and work of J M W Turner, starring Leo McKern. This included copying many of Turner's paintings such as "The Fighting Temeraire" and "Rain, Steam and Speed".

After leaving Thames TV he freelanced for T.V. and film productions, including “Monthy Python & The Holy Grail”, and the rock opera “Tommy” (directed by Ken Russell). He also worked for London Weekend Television and Shepperton Studios.

During the whole of this period, because of his talent as a portrait painter, he also produced commissioned artworks, painting family groups and individual portraits, mainly of those connected to the film and TV industry.

In 1978 he took up a post as a lecturer at Colchester School of Art where he taught drawing and painting. There he played a major role in developing the Applied Art and Design Course, which was later entitled “Design Crafts”. He retired from teaching full time on the BA Honours Fine Art Degree Course in 2006 to concentrate on his own work.

In 2005 he was a prize-winner of the prestigious Singer & Friedlander Sunday Times Watercolour Competition.

Michael has had, to date, nine solo exhibitions and numerous mixed exhibitions, many of these located in London, at The Mall Galleries and The New Grafton Gallery, and in Essex and Suffolk. He exhibits regularly at Hayletts Gallery, Maldon and Geedon Gallery, Fingeringhoe, both in Essex.

In 2000 he designed the stained-glass Millennium window at St Nicholas Church in Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex, where he lives with his wife Nicola, an illustrator and author of children’s books.

He became a member of Colchester Art Society in 1978 and is now an Honorary Member. He has been on the Selection Committee a number of times.


The main subjects of Michael’s paintings are bar interiors and exteriors, and urban street life in general. Much of this imagery derives from his interest and fascination with observing his fellow human beings and the ensuing clash of cultures in public places. This captivation also comes from his

stimulating time spent working at the Opera House in Covent Garden, when the fruit and vegetable market was still in operation, and the hustle and bustle of colourful characters and vibrant pub/café life existed on this most theatrical of doorsteps.  Mick will often incorporate individuals in his paintings, connected with art or entertainment – such as Picasso, Sister Wendy Beckett, Tony Hancock and Tommy Cooper, to name a few. An interesting aspect of some of the bar interiors concerns the way he perceives the paintings, comparing them to landscapes, where for example the top of the bar would be the horizon.

For a long time Michael has had an interest in 17th century Dutch genre painting and any painting with an ambiguity and hint of narrative. There are for example elements of Rembrandt’s use of chiaroscuro in his work. This Flemish influence can also be seen in the way he records people and places. He echoes the great masters by recording a way of life which will eventually disappear.

An early source of influence was Edouard Manet’s Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère. Other influential artistsinclude Edward Hopper, William Hogarth, Toulouse Lautrec and Francis Bacon. In Michael’s paintings, there are often enigmatic solitary figures in urban surroundings.

Michael’s paintings are not meant to be accurate representations, even if some places are recognisable, they are basically imaginative and impressionistic. His sitters are not stuck in time and place, they are animated. And when Michael says of himself that he is a simple person, it is far from true. His work is complex; it is the work of an artist who has absorbed artistic lessons from the past to produce something aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating.

This particular painting entitled Brown Bar–Amsterdam was frequented by Michael and Ian Hay when they took their students on field trips to Holland, where museum visits and sketchbook projects were organised.

Selected Exhibitions


1966 The Compendium Gallery, Birmingham

1968 B.H. Corner Gallery, London

1974 The Galeria, Maldon, Essex

1979 The Digby Gallery, Colchester

1980 D’Arcy Gallery, Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex

1981 Craftsman Gallery, Colchester

1995 New Grafton Gallery, London, View from a Bar

2012 The Minories, Colchester, Through a Glass Darkly

Mixed Exhibitions

In London

Astoria Theatre, 1977

Bankside Gallery, 1986-7

New Grafton Gallery, Summer and Christmas Exhibitions, 1994; Artists of Today and Tomorrow, 1996-9, 2000-2,

Mall Galleries, 1997-8, 2000-1, 2005, 2007 (including Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition in 2005), 2010; Discerning Eye, 2001-3, 2005, 2015

In Essex

1983 D’Arcy Gallery, Tolleshunt D’Arcy

1984, 1986 Chelmsford Cathedral Festival Exhibition

1987 The Minories, Colchester, Brian Argent Smith, Michael Smee, David Wood: Paintings and 2008

1992 Epping Forest Museum, Artists in Essex

1993 The Digby Gallery, Colchester, Two Man Show

1997 Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend, Winner of Essex Open

2004, 2006, 2009, 2014 Hayletts Gallery, Maldon

In Suffolk

1977 Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury

1990 The Quay Gallery, Sudbury

1995 Buckenham House, Southwold, Festival of Illustration

2010 The Lime Tree Gallery, Long Melford

Elsewhere in the UK

1987-89, 1991, 1994, 1997 Cambridge Ernst & Young Art Exhibitions, Cambridge

1989 Heffers Summer Exhibition, Cambridge

2006-7 Richard Hagen Gallery, Broadway, Worcestershire


1980 Studio Milan, Wetzler, Germany

Works in Public Places

The Royal Oak, Tabard Street, London, Respite at the Royal Oak, 2005

Christ’s Hospital Foundation, Horsham, West Sussex, Professor Jack Morpurgo (1918-2000), 1989

Westminster Cathedral, London, Portrait of Cardinal John Heenan, 1998

Publications and References

ESSEX LIFE MAGAZINE, Featured Artist, 2009

GREEN PEBBLE MAGAZINE, Featured Artist, 2009

LONDON CAMRA MAGAZINE [1], Feature Article, 2007

THE OLDIE MAGAZINE, Featured Artist, 2008

THE ARTIST MAGAZINE, Master Class, December 2005

VENUE MAGZINE, Featured Artist, 2013


BUCKMAN, David, Dictionary of artists in Britain since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd, Bristol, 1998, p. 1116

Art UK

Hayletts Gallery

(1) ‘Matte Glass Shots’ are background paintings made by painting details on a piece of glass to be combined with live action footage. These illusionistic paintings were highly finished. 

(2) CAMRA, or The Campaign for Real Ale, is an organisation which promotes real ale and cider in the traditional British pub.