Professor Smith came to Warwick in 2005. Before that he was professor of History of Art at the University of Bristol; and he has been a visiting professor at UC Berkeley, a visiting scholar and a scholar at the Getty Research Institute, and a summer fellow at the Clark Institute. Paul studied for his PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art under the supervision of Robert Ratcliffe, the eminent but obscure Cezanne scholar. Before that, he took his undergraduate degree at University College London, where he was taught aesthetics by the philosopher, Richard Wollheim. Both have had a lasting influence on his research. He is currently on research leave until September 2023.
Paul works mostly on later nineteenth-century French painting, and the literature of the period. Particular interests include Baudelaire, Manet, Impressionism, Seurat, Cezanne, and stories and novels about art. He is also interested in how Adrian Stokes's and Richard Wollheim's aesthetic theories, phenomenology, Wittgenstein's thinking, and neuroscience can illuminate pictures. A central focus of this recent work has been colour and colour theory.
He welcomes applications from those interested in researching C19th French art and art theory, and colour and colour theory. In the past he has supervised PhDs on Baudelaire, Barnett Newman, visual poetry, and Cezanne (all AHRC funded); and he is presently supervising one PhD on Georges Petit, and another on colour and light in recent art.
Paul works closely with galleries and museums. He is currently writing the online catalogue of the Cezanne paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago. He has written catalogue essays for the Museum of Fine Art, Budapest (2021); the Philips Collection, Washington DC (2014); the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (2006); the Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence (2006); and the Tate Gallery, London (a book on Cezanne in 1996 which sold 70,000 copies). He also made a video in 2016 or the National Gallery, London for their Delacroix exhibition in 2015.
Paul has just completed a book on the science, perception, and depiction of coloured shadows. Other aspects of his research fall within the departmental theme, Space and Experience. He is a member of the University-wide Global Research Priorities group, Brain, Behaviour and Society: Art and Perception theme.
In September 2021 he began a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship to work on the project Unfolding Vision: Cezanne’s ‘way of seeing’. This will draw on recent discoveries in psychology to investigate how the artist's slow and sustained mode of looking was responsible for the so-called distortions formalist critics saw in his work. See a summary in the Leverhulme Trust 2020 Annual Review.
- Painting, Science, and the Perception of Coloured Shadows: 'The Most Beautiful Blue' (Routledge, 2021).
- 'Vermilion, or why Cezanne took the shine off things', Word & Image, vol. 26, no. 1 (2020), 64-79.
- 'Pictorial Grammar: Chomsky, John Willats, and the rules of representation', Art History, 342 (June 2011), 563-93.