George Smillie is one of the most widely known American landscape painters whose long and celebrated career began before the Civil War and ended after the First World War. Smillie was the third of four sons and fifth child of noted line engraver James Smillie (1807-1885). Each of the sons was a talented artist in his own right. George though, being the youngest did not receive the same nurturing of these talents from his father as did his older siblings. For instance, James David Smillie (1833-1909), the oldest, was trained from infancy to follow in his father’s profession. Many of his earliest drawings were carefully saved. In contrast, none of George’s early work survives and little is known of his early childhood.
Despite this rather unpromising environment George’s artist leanings did come to the fore. At the age of twenty-one, he entered the Brooklyn, New York studio of James McDougal Hart (1828-1901). Hart is one of the more important artists of the second generation of Hudson River School painters. The two most likely met in James Smillie’s engraving studio where Hart’s work was frequently reproduced.
In 1861, George Smillie began his long association with the National Academy of Design with his first exhibition. He would exhibit there every year until his death. At about 1863 George and his oldest brother James David began to work very closely together. They traveled to the same picturesque locations around the country and Europe during the summers. In New York they occupied adjacent studios and lived together for a time. Such was their closeness and relative lack of competitiveness they worked on each other’s paintings, provided sketches for one another and shared joint commissions from patrons who ordered a painting from both. When one was sick the other would take over teaching duties and prepare the other’s paintings for exhibition. In this way the two brothers spent almost twenty years before they each married within weeks of each other. Although married the brothers did remain close and supportive until James David’s death in 1909.
National Academy of Design (Associate 1864, Academician 1882)
American Water Color Society
Lotos Club, New York
National Academy of Design, 1862-1921
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1867, 1869
Art Institute of Chicago, before 1888 until 1917
Salmagundi Club, 1883
American Art Association, New York, 1885 prize
New York Etching Club, 1884
St. Louis Exposition, 1904 medal
American Artists Society, Philadelphia, 1907 medal
Museums and Public Collections
Ball State Museum of Art, Indiana
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Currier Gallery of Art, New Hampshire
Erie, Pennsylvania Public Library
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California
Huntington Library, California
Lotos Club, New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Rhode Island School of Design
Union League Club, Philadelphia