A traditional American marine artist in ever sense, it is unusual for an artist to exhibit such a high level of quality, which Joseph B. Smith does, and have only two dozen or so known surviving works to his credit. The majority of works were performed in conjunction with his son, William S. Smith; born in 1821. Their partnership appears to have been a full one, rather than a generational apprenticeship. Both lived and practiced together in Brooklyn, until separated by William’s service to the union in the American Civil War.
The foremost graphic element which leads one to recognize paintings by Smith is the style of his American flags. Near identical in each work, they are full yet rippled, with tight reverberations through the field and quarter. Most paintings are signed J.B. Smith & Son, while after 1862 three known works survive signed solely by J.B. Smith.
Honorably discharged at the conclusion of the war in 1865, it appears William he never rejoined with his father in any artistic capacity. He was enrolled in the 14th Brooklyn, and was an associate of marine artist Conrad Freitag. A 19th century watercolor self-portrait of Joseph, published in 1953, shows that he was extremely small in stature, whereas his son must have been of a required height to join the military. Joseph left New York in 1863, painted for a time in Philadelphia, and spent his final days in Camden, New Jersey.