Smith, Joseph B. & Smith, William S. – American Artists – Marine, Father & Son

Joseph B. Smith (1798-1876) & William S. Smith (1821- ?)

A master of nautical ship portraits, Joseph B. Smith was born in New York City in 1798, and trained for the printing trade. His son and partner in many paintings, William S., was born in 1821.

Joseph’s earliest known work was a lithograph of his printing depicting the clipper ship Mechanic’s Own. His earliest known painting was the 1849 portrait of the Steamer Hartford underway and bound for the California goldfields (now in the Museum of the City of New York). In partnership the father and son Smiths are known to have produced at least four large-folio works for Nathaniel Currier, the Great Republic in 1855, Adelaide, Ocean Express, and Red Jacket in 1856. Currier’s lithographs credited them to “J.B. Smith & Son, Brooklyn.”

Through the 1840′s until 1862 (when son William enlisted in the Union Army) the Smith duo produced a substantial number of large nautical scenes and ship portraits, of which about thirty are known to have survived. They include two ferry portraits, 17 portraits of sailing ships, 7 portraits of steam powered vessels and 2 yachts. Most are privately owned, but several are in museum collections, including those of the Essex Museum, the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Mariners’ Museum.

The Smith’s did not always sign their paintings, often electing to affix a business card to the reverse. Even without their signature, many of their works can be positively identified by their American flag, at once distinctive and used by them consistently in this form (a full rippled flag streaming in the wind to the right with a mostly straight top and a somewhat concave form to to the other three sides).

William survived the Civil War and was discharged in 1865. Perhaps because of his father’s advanced age, their artistic partnership was never renewed and William himself is lost to history. Joseph, however, moved to the Philadelphia area where he is known as a lithographer and from a few small sketches and watercolors. He died in Camden, New Jersey in 1876. acknowledges the scholarship of A. J. Peluso, Jr. as the source of many of the facts summarized in this note.

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