London; designer, cabinet maker and upholder (c.1786–1826)
He is described on the title page of his ambitious and influential pattern book A Collection of Designs for Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, 1808, as ‘upholder extraordinary to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’. The 158 aquatint engravings bear dates from 1804 to 1807 and are important as being the first collection of designs for ordinary furniture in a fully developed Regency style. Advertisements for the book in the Liverpool Chronicle, 20 February 1805 and 25 November 1807 disclose that it was issued in three parts over three years, each priced £1 11s 6d plain or £2 12s 6d ‘elegantly coloured’. Smith contributed designs for furniture to Ackermann's periodical Repository of Arts in January and March 1809 and his A Collection of Ornamental Designs after the Antique appeared in 1812.
Directories reveal that Smith traded as an ‘upholsterer and cabinetmaker’ at 69 Dean Street, Soho 1795–97 and as ‘upholder etc’ at 15 Princes Street, Cavendish Square (1806–11). His trade card issued from this address [Banks Coll., BM; John Johnson Coll., Bodleian Library, Oxford] features the Royal Arms and states he was ‘Upholder and cabinet maker to HRH The Prince of Wales, draughtsman in Architecture, Perspective and Ornaments.’ It is difficult to estimate his status as a furniture maker owing to a dearth of evidence. In the introduction to his final work The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide, 1826, he claimed ‘experience of forty years devoted to the study of cabinet making, upholstery and drawing, both in theory and practical application’, stating that he had been employed ‘by some of the most exalted characters in the country to manufacture many of the Designs.’ In this publication he paid tribute to and his designs show the influence of the work of Dominique Vivant Denon (1747-1825) who had accompanied Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt. Denon had published Voyage dans las Basse at Le Haute Égypte in 1802 and contributed plates to the Description de l’Egpte published between 1809 and 1824. A portrait signed T. (J?) Bradley shows Smith seated with his spaniel, the curtains and furniture reproduced details of those illustrated in The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide (illus. Bedford, Regional Furniture (2001), fig.1).
His career was not without setbacks since two bankruptcies were reported in 1790. [Bailey's list of bankrupts and Liverpool Advertiser, 15 July 1793] Some furniture supplied by George Smith of London to Mount Stewart, Co. Down [C. Life, 13 March 1980, p. 757] might be from his workshop. In 1826 he still described himself as ‘Upholsterer and Furniture Draughtsman to His Majesty’ although he was then ‘Principal of the Drawing Academy’ at 41 Brewer St. He was possibly the father of George Smith jnr, a minor topographical artist. [G. Smith, Collection of Designs for Household Furniture, reprint, introduction by C. V. Hershey, 1970] C.G.G
Source: DEFM; Bedford, ‘The Sitter Revealed: A Portrait of George Smith’, Regional Furniture (2001); Buckrell Pos, ‘Tatham and Italy; influences on English neo-classical design’, Furniture History (2002); St Leger Kelly, ‘The Egyptian Revival: A Reassessment of Baron Denon's Influence on Thomas Hope’, Furniture History (2004); Stabler, FHS Newsletter (May 2007).