ON FRIDAY September 14, 1934, the watercolour artist Arthur Reginald Smith set out early from his home near Grassington to paint the River Wharfe near Bolton Abbey.

The artist was fascinated by the beauty of the river, and the villages along its upper reaches frequently appeared in his work.

But on this day he never returned.

When the artist failed to return home that evening, the alarm was raised and the police found his easel and painting bag containing sketches of the river on a rock next to The Strid at its narrowest point.

The woods were searched, but the artist had disappeared.

At first light, and over the next week, the river was dragged by the police, but no body was found, although his tweed hat was found downstream half a mile from The Strid.

Arthur was born in Skipton in 1871, the son of a local chemist. He studied art at evening classes at Keighley School of Art, and later worked there as a tutor.

In 1901 he became a student at the Royal College of Art in London, and in 1904 was awarded the full College. In 1905 he was awarded a College scholarship which allowed him to travel to Italy, where he studied for a year.

On his return, the Silsden-born artist Augustus Spencer, who was the Principal of the Royal College at that time, found Arthur teaching positions at schools in London.

During the First World War Arthur served in the Artists Rifles Regiment and after the war he moved back to Yorkshire, settling at Threshfield, where he lived for the rest of his life.

His landscape watercolour paintings were very popular and he exhibited his work widely across Britain. Commissions included work for private apartments at Marlborough House and at Buckingham Palace.

Most of his paintings are now in private collections, although Bradford Museums and Galleries and the Craven Museum at Skipton hold examples of his work.

In a bizarre twist to the artist’s disappearance, a water diviner, a Mr R Brotton from Richmond in North Yorkshire, was called by police to the search, as he had previously been successful in locating drowned bodies.

After standing near the narrowest point at The Strid, holding the artist’s hat, Brotton walked downstream with the two hazel twigs attached with wire.

He halted and pointed to a spot in a pool, 50 yards from where the artist’s easel had been found.

“I am sure the body is there,” he told the police.

The police again dragged the river and on the 11th day found the submerged body of the artist, wedged against a rock, in the spot indicated by the diviner.

Brotton later told the Keighley News: “When engaged in searching for bodies in water, I believe that if I can get an article of the dead person’s clothing the electricity in my body establishes contact with that of the body.

“Contact thus made passes through my body to the hazel twig, which drops in my hands to point to the spot where the body lies.”

Colin Neville, who researched Smith’s story for his website Not Just Hockney, said: “It was reported at the time that Smith had been known to jump the river at this point, so there was a suggestion that he had slipped in the attempt.

“However, the artist was 63 at the time of his death and it seems extraordinary that a man of his age would do this.”

The local police had also examined the banks and could offer no explanation why the artist should fall into the river, and at the inquest the coroner gave an open verdict and recorded ‘death from drowning’.

Two days late, and following a service at the parish church of St Michael, at Linton, close to the artist’s home, the artist’s body was cremated and his ashes were scattered into the river he had loved to paint.

* As well as writing regular art history articles for the Keighley News, Colin Neville runs the website notjusthockney.info which chronicles the lives and works of artists over many decades from across Bradford district. The website contains many examples of the artists’ work.