The son of a Scottish immigrant who brought him up in the trade of an engraver, James David Smillie was born in New York and is known as an engraver of landscapes as well as an innovative engraver of bank notes.
Smillie was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1865 and raised to the level of an Academician in 1876. His induction into the Academy came only a year after he began working as a painter.
James David Smillie was an accomplished watercolor artist and was a founder of the American Water Color Society in 1866. He also served as the organization's president and its treasurer.
He produced etchings and illustrations including etchings of the artwork contained in James Fennimore Cooper's works, painted by F.O.C. Darley. He was also a writer, producing both the article and the accompanying illustrations for Yosemite in Picturesque America.
He is remarkable for his mountain landscape paintings. His subjects included most of the major mountain ranges in the United States, including the Rockies, Adirondacks, Sierras and the Catskills.
His work is among the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and The New York Public Library, as well as other important collections.