Smith was born in Halifax and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. From 1908 he spent a large amount of time in France, briefly attending Matisse's art school in Paris. Smith is chiefly known for his richly coloured, sensuous nudes and still lifes, but he also painted a number of portraits, mostly during his later years. When the Second World War broke out, Smith was forced to abandon his studio in the south of France, and early in the war his two sons were killed in action. Deeply depressed, he virtually stopped painting until 1944.