Painting of Curtiss Helldivers by R.G. Smith
Museum in Washington, DC

R.G. Smith: The 'Old Master' of the Sky

Aviation art exhibition featuring paintings and drawings by Robert Grant "R.G" Smith.

This exhibition featured 25 elegant paintings and drawings by renowned artist Robert Grant "R.G" Smith. The works captured the inspiring evolution of flight, from the era of wood and fabric aircraft to the age of Supersonic Transports. Offering a unique view of military and commercial aircraft and spacecraft, R.G. Smith's paintings capture on canvas the fleeting moments normally only experienced by those who fly.

Born in 1914 in Los Angeles, R.G. Smith developed an immediate lifelong love of aviation following Charles Lindbergh's successful solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1927 in the Spirit of St. Louis. Smith began his career in 1936 as an engineer with Douglas Aircraft. While helping to design such classic naval aircraft as the SBD Dauntless, AD Skyraider, A-3D Skywarrior, F-4D Skyray, and his personal favorite, the A-4D Skyhawk, Smith also was developing a reputation as a respected artist. When asked to draw or paint for aircraft proposals, he used his knowledge of airplane construction and function to give life to the aircraft in his artworks.

According to R.G. Smith, the three essential elements in his approach to painting are accuracy, planning and the power of suggestion. To ensure accuracy, Smith studied the desired scene or event, viewed his subjects from all angles, collected paint chips from aircraft, and in some cases, actually observed aircraft in combat and at sea. He planned each piece by sketching the aircraft from several angles before painting them on the canvas, occasionally using models that he built as guides. Instead of painting every bolt and rivet, Smith blends colors to add motion and subtlety to harsh lines, allowing the eye and brain of the viewers to connect the dots and lines. The result is a sense of reality, atmosphere, and energy.

R.G. Smith has created some 2,000 paintings and drawings on a variety of subjects, but he is best known as an artist of naval aviation. His paintings and prints can be found in museums and private collections, in the wardrooms of naval vessels, on the walls of the Pentagon and countless military installations, and in congressional and corporate offices. Two tours as a combat artist in Vietnam and trips to naval units around the world have led to his designation as an "Honorary Naval Aviator," a distinction awarded to few civilians. Jimmie Doolittle and Bob Hope are among the recipients of this honor.

This exhibition is now closed.


Tom Crouch

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