Matthew Smith was born in Halifax, the son of a wire-manufacturer. Following four years working in the family factory, he attended the Manchester School of Technology to study design from 1900 to 1904 and the Slade School of Art to study painting from 1905 to 1907. He was in Paris by 1910 where he was influenced by Henri Matisse, attending his short-lived school, and the Fauve painters. For the next 29 years he lived in Britain and France. He became a member of the London Group in 1920 and had his first solo exhibition in 1926 where he experienced immediate recognition of his talent. His work was shown at the Venice Biennale in 1938 and 1950 and he was knighted in 1949. A major retrospective of his work took place at the Barbican Art Gallery in 1983.
Smith was a passionate and instinctive painter. His work is noted for its use of colour. His paintings display strong, brilliant contrasts, the paint used generously and confidently. His early work, in particular the Fitzroy Street nudes and Cornish landscapes, while showing the influence of French Fauvism, also belong to the development of British Post-Impressionism.