Smythe was a friend and contemporary of Fred Walker and J. W. North (see lots 11-16) and his work has a certain affinity with theirs, not so much in style and technique as in terms of rustic subjects and poetic feeling. While North found his Arcadia in Somerset, however, Smythe discovered his in France. As a boy and young man he often visited the country, and in 1879 he and his wife Alice finally settled in Normandy. For the first few years they lived in a Napoleonic fortress on the dunes near Boulogne, but when this fell victim to the encroaching sea in 1882, they moved to the nearby Château d'Honvault, between Boulogne and Wimereux (see lot 37). This picturesque old keep, in which Henry VIII had lodged when he besieged Boulogne, remained Smythe's home until his death 1918.
Smythe began to exhibit at the Institute of Painters in Watercolours in 1881, and was elected a member the following year. He continued to show with the Institute until 1889, but in 1890 he resigned and in 1892 became an associate of the Old Watercolour Society, graduating to full membership two years later. This caused a certain amount of resentment at the Institute, where it was felt that Smythe, like many before him, had been seduced by its older and more prestigious rival. Smythe also had close connections with the Royal Academy, where he exhibited from 1863. He as elected an associate in 1898 and a full member in 1911. It is perhaps significant in this context that he was the elder half-brother of the marine painter W. R. Wyllie, who became an A.R.A in 1889 and an R.A. in 1907.
The present example is mentioned and illustrated in the biography of Smythe that was published by Wyllie and Rosa M. Whitlaw in 1923. 'The severe attack of influenza from which he had been suffering in the early Spring had considerably interfered with his work, so he was only able to send one picture to the Academy that year, - an exceedingly beautiful watercolour, called "A Garden Gateway", which had been begun many years previously.' The artist's wife, Alice, and son, Philip, are seen standing by an old gateway leading from the wood into the garden at the Château d'Honvault. A glimpse of the house and its battlements, glowing in the afternoon sun, appears in the distance. With the Smythes are their two greyhounds, 'Spider', the black and white one, and 'Palm', a 'very ladylike' animal who, according to the artist's biographers, was given this name 'because her coat was just the colour of the silvery catkins of the willow'. These dogs would often accompany Smythe on his painting expeditions, the locals calling them 'les trois squelettes'. The family were great animal lovers, always taking in stray dogs and cats or rescuing wounded birds. A whole chapter is devoted to these pets in Smythe's biography.