References to Chicago artist Marshall D. Smith are few and far between. Fortunately, he signed most of the paintings that have appeared on the art market in recent years, and many have exhibition labels glued to the verso. What is known is that paintings by Smith were included in the annual exhibitions of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1937 and 1939. In addition, he was represented in the Chicago Painters Exhibition, a show circulated by the American Federation of Arts and installed at the Brooklyn Museum in the summer of 1932; fellow Chicagoan Rudolph Ingerle also participated in the presentation. Smith is listed as a WPA artist, working in the Illinois easel division.

Records show that Smith maintained a studio at the Tree Studios, located on one of Chicago’s main thoroughfares. Established by Judge Lambert Tree and his wife Anne in 1894—one year after the city hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition—the studio’s purpose was to entice European artists to return to Chicago. In addition, a collection of eighty-five captioned pen-and-ink cartoons Smith created is held in the Archives of American Art.

Believed to be a native of Wisconsin, Smith spent time in New Orleans and clearly enjoyed its ambience. He found the city’s streets and courtyards appealing subjects, often rendering them with heavy impasto, earth tones, and dramatic lighting. On occasion, he populated these scenes with individuals nostalgically dressed in nineteenth-century style. Extant canvases reference a visit to Venice, and passenger ledgers document Smith’s arrival in New York from La Havre, France, in September 1926.