Jeffrey Smart exhibition, Canberra: The next best thing to being in Italy

“I like everything Italian. I like the offhand way of them. I like the language, and I love spaghetti, and I love the Italian painting, and I like the Italian way of life.”

So said the late Jeffrey Smart and well, I couldn’t agree more. The acclaimed and much-loved Australian artist was an Italophile; indeed, he spent most of his working life thereafter moving to Rome in 1963 and later Arezzo, in Tuscany, where he died in 2013.

Smart’s signature style might be described as a kind of surreal realism. He is well known for his urban landscapes that owe a debt to Surrealists such as Giorgio de Chirico, even as they describe the mundane brutality of industry.

Smart painted his beloved Italy, but those paintings are not the picturesque landscapes you might imagine of Tuscan hillsides. Rather, they capture the gritty reality of the industrial outskirts you might glimpse on a train between towns – some might argue, the real Italy.

The exhibition Jeffrey Smart at the National Art Gallery of Australia in Canberra (until May 15) is a superb survey of this masterful painter. I think it shows a side of him that hasn’t been fully explored because it approaches his work thematically as opposed to chronologically. Alongside the stark, boldly colored landscapes with their rigid formalism are some of the artist’s famed portraits of, among others, David Malouf and Margaret Olley, and I love his wonderful portrait of the late great Clive James. It’s particularly clever because James is depicted in miniature against the grandeur of the abstract landscape – a unique perspective.

Jeffrey Smart, Self portrait, Procida, 1956-57, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Jeffrey Smart, Self portrait, Procida, 1956-57, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Smart would have turned 100 in 2021 and this superb show is a great introduction to his career, which spanned some seven decades. Smart’s appeal is enduring, and young audiences are drawn to his artistic rigor technical ability, and aforementioned Surrealist sensibility. There’s a great free audio tour you can do by bringing your own headphones but if you visit, you can listen from the comfort of your couch. Very clever!

Stay the night

Capital Hotel Group offers packages starting from $127 a night, with a priority access pass to Jeffrey Smart when you book your accommodation. See

Jeffrey Smart, Wallaroo, 1951, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Jeffrey Smart, Wallaroo, 1951, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of

About the author


Hi! I’m Ozzie!

Before joining Australia Exploring, I was a writer at Tripadvisor.

I'm looking for the best posts for you about travel adventures in Australia and around the world. This website has the purpose to inspire you to travel… travel more and better. I hope it can help you explore the world a little bit better.

I graduated from the University of Sydney. I live in California with my wife and two children.


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