Like many of America’s finest artists, James David Smillie began his career as an engraver. Under the tutelage of his father, Smillie learned the rudimentary basics of print design and production, eventually creating a series of illustrations for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and views of the American wilderness published in “Picturesque America” (1872). Smillie began to explore the medium of paint in 1865 after a two year trip to Europe, yet retained his earlier style and experience in prints to create masterful compositions. As such, Smillie’s painted works demonstrate the unique combination of colors manipulated by a knowledgeable painter with the angular lines and competent draftsmanship of an engraver.
In addition to his career as a print-maker and painter, Smillie was affiliated with numerous professional societies and academies. In 1876 he was elected an academician of the National Academy of Design where he taught in 1868 and 1894-1903. Smillie was also a founding member of the American Watercolor Society, the Painter-Etchers Society of London and helped to organize the New York Etching Club. Examples of Smillie’s works can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.