Smith, Stephen Catterson (1806–72), portrait painter, was born 12 March 1806 at Skipton, Craven, Yorkshire, England, son of Joseph Smith, coach painter, and his wife Anne, daughter of Stephen Catterson of Gowflat, Yorks. His studies in art began at the Royal Academy Schools (1821), at the age of 16, and continued in Paris for a time. He established a successful portrait practice in London, patronised by the royal family, and showed great flair and talent at drawing in black and white chalks; indeed, many lithographs made of his drawings were published. He exhibited with the British Institute (1828–33) and contributed to the Royal Academy before moving to Derry (1839–45), where he completed a number of commissions. Eventually he settled in Dublin, at 42 St Stephen's Green.
In Dublin he quickly established a clientele among the Irish aristocracy and before long was appointed official portrait painter to the lord lieutenant, the earl of Bessborough (qv), and painted succeeding viceroys over a period of thirty years. He painted a number of portraits of Daniel O'Connell (qv). One, painted when Smith was 19 years of age (1825), highlights his inexperience, as O'Connell, a man conscious of the importance of his public image, appears lacking in gravity and poise. It was published by J. Robins, London, and is in the NGI. Later his portraiture style became more formal. Another Smith portrait of O'Connell (Dublin civic portrait collection) shows him, full-length, in his official role as lord mayor of Dublin (1841–2) with mayoral robes and chain and carrying the city sword and mace, but it suffers from focusing more on the symbols and emblems of office than on the personality of the sitter. Smith's official portraiture often lacks psychological depth, although the rank and position of the sitter is carefully noted. On the other hand his portraits of women and his quick chalk studies are refreshingly lively and fluent. He became an associate (May 1844) and member of the RHA (September 1844), and was elected president in 1859. He succeeded George Francis Mulvany (qv) as director of the NGI in 1868. He married (1845) Anne Wyke (d. 1886), a miniaturist, who exhibited with the RHA, daughter of Robert Titus Wyke, a watercolourist and teacher in Wexford. They had a large family, six sons and four daughters. Smith was a prolific painter and he painted a vast number of portraits, perhaps explaining the mixed quality. He exhibited yearly with the RHA and to a lesser extent with the Royal Academy (1830–58). He died suddenly (3 May 1872) at his house in St Stephens Green and is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Harolds Cross, Dublin.
His eldest son, Stephen Catterson Smith (1849–1912), was born 19 June 1849 in the family home, and educated locally at Dr Rice's school, Harcourt St. It was intended that he would join the army, but due to financial constraints he was trained as a painter in his father's studio. His first entry in the RHA exhibition (1871) was a portrait of his father. When his father died (1872), he carried on the portrait practice and completed many notable commissions. Examples of his work can be found in public and private collections in Dublin. A very attractive painting of a young woman moving towards steps in a park (painted 1890; presented to the NGI 1986) provides a contrast to his more formal work. He married Henrietta, daughter of John Aitken, shopkeeper, of Edinburgh (1873); they had one son, Stephen. Smith exhibited with the Dublin Sketching Club (1884–5) and with the Dublin Art Club for several years. Records of the RHA exhibitions show that after the 1880s he entered more landscapes than portraits. These were painted while he was on holiday in Scotland and Ireland. Unlike his father, he did not exhibit in London. He was made an associate member of the RHA in March 1876 and was a full member by 1879. He served as secretary to the Academy for twenty years and took a great interest in its affairs. John B. Yeats (qv) claimed that Catterson Smith hoped to be made president but never had any chance. There was no love lost between these two artists, perhaps due to competition for sitters. Yeats was under the impression that the Catterson Smiths were jealous and maneuvering and he described Mrs C. Smith as a ‘grotesque little person’ finding in her ‘all those signs of class groping he despised’ (Murphy, Prodigal father, 250). She found him equally contemptible. However, Smith was quick to spot talent and give due credit to the younger members of the RHA, and in 1899 noted the skill and ability of the young stained-glass artist Michael Healy (qv). He suffered poor health for the last few years of his life and died 24 November 1912, at his home, 42 St Stephen's Green. He is buried in Deans Grange cemetery.