Smyth (Smith), John (c.1775–1840), sculptor, was born in Dublin, son of Edward Smyth (qv), sculptor, and probably studied at the Dublin Society Drawing School as well as in his father's workshop. Nothing is known of his mother. He may be the John Smyth who attended the school of figure drawing in 1791 and 1793 and was awarded a medal in 1794. During his early career Smyth worked alongside his father on a number of projects and lived at 36 Montgomery St., Dublin. In 1809 Edward and John Smyth jointly exhibited a bust of George III (now in the NGI) at the Society of Artists on Hawkins St., Dublin, and carved (c.1809) the three figures representing Hibernia, Fidelity, and Commerce on the pediment above the south portico of the Bank of Ireland, College Green. Some accounts suggest that all three figures were designed by John Flaxman and carved by Edward Smyth, while others suggest that Edward Smyth and Flaxman jointly designed the figures and that John Smyth executed all the work. Most of the heads around the windows at the chapel royal in Dublin Castle were probably carved by John Smyth c.1810 rather than by his father. In 1812 the RCSI paid Edward Smyth £20 for a bust of William Dease (qv), but the final work is signed and dated ‘John Smyth sculpt 1812 Dublin’. Overall John Smyth's contribution to these joint projects was probably underestimated by contemporaries, who preferred to refer in Dublin newspapers to his more esteemed father.
The earliest works tentatively attributed to John Smyth are a surviving statue of James Switzer at St James's asylum, Kilkenny (c.1803), and more curiously a church monument (c.1795) in Rhode Island, USA, signed by ‘John Smyth, Dublin’. During 1813–16 Smyth carved keystones, representing Hibernia, Commerce, Plenty, the River Liffey, and Industry, on Richmond Bridge, Dublin, and the heads of Palladio, Michelangelo, and Raphael over the door and windows of the Royal Hibernian Academy on Lower Abbey St., Dublin. In 1815 Smyth was commissioned to carve three figures, representing Hibernia, Mercury, and Fidelity for the portico of the General Post Office, Dublin. This is Smyth's best-known public work, and dramatic photographs of the 1916 Easter rising show his three figures silhouetted against the burnt-out ruins of the GPO. In 1827 Smyth was paid £150 for the three stone figures of Hygeia, Asclepius, and Athene which grace the pediment of the Royal College of Surgeons, St Stephen's Green, Dublin. He is also credited with the nine-foot-tall Walker monument in Derry, erected in 1828.
After 1815 Smyth concentrated on funerary monuments and portrait busts rather than public outdoor commissions. This move may have been prompted by a desire to establish his reputation in a different field from his father (Edward Smyth was a relatively poor tomb sculptor) or because a better living could be made from the growing and lucrative market for classically inspired marble memorials. Among his best known works are the memorials to John Ball (qv) c.1815 and John Boardman c.1814, and the portrait statue of George Ogle (qv) c.1815 in St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin. Smyth was adept at representing the dead through implementa such as military trophies as well as representations of Faith, Hope, Charity, and Religion. In the monument to the Rev. Thomas Elrington (qv) c.1835 at Ferns cathedral, he carved a figure of Religion mourning over a medallion portrait of the deceased. He probably borrowed some neo-classical designs from the medallist William Stephen Mossop (qv). About a dozen funerary monuments by Smyth are recorded, but it is likely that he executed a much larger number during his working life. His last known memorials, at St Peter's church, Drogheda, can be dated to 1837.
Smyth was actively involved in artistic training and exhibitions in Dublin. He exhibited his work at the Society of Artists of Ireland (1809, 1811), the Society of Artists of the City of Dublin (1813), the Hibernian Society of Artists (1814), and with the Artists of Ireland (1815, 1817, 1819). He was one of the founding associates of the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts in 1824 and exhibited there in 1826, 1830, and 1831. His exhibition pieces were mainly portrait busts of monarchs, nobles, gentlemen, and surgeons, but he also showed at least one funerary monument and a marble of Venus and Cupid. In 1813 he took over from his father as master of the school of modelling and sculpture at the Dublin Society. Smyth took his teaching duties seriously and greatly improved the status of the school. In 1813 the Dublin Drawing School records show that Smyth was devoting as much as three days a week to teaching and therefore sacrificing income from commissions.
John Smyth lived under the shadow of his father for much of his career, and as a result his reputation has suffered. He surpassed his father in the area of funerary and commemorative monuments and between 1810 and his death was one of the most sought-after sculptors in Ireland. He may not have been able to match the vigour or originality of his father's work on the Custom House, Dublin, but he was responsible for many fine works in the neo-classical style, such as the figures that still adorn three key buildings on the Dublin skyline. He appears to have been a generous tutor, and a number of Irish sculptors such as John Henry Foley (qv) and Terence Farrell (qv) benefited from his mastership at the school of modelling. Smyth died in March 1840, aged about 65, and was probably buried next to his father at St Thomas's church graveyard, Dublin. His eldest son, John (b. c.1804), trained as a sculptor but was not as proficient as his father, failed to gain the mastership of the school of modelling in 1840, and apparently moved to London at about that time. Another son, George (b. c.1818), also trained as a sculptor. Examples of John Smyth's marble portrait busts are in the NGI and the RCSI, Dublin.