When the Smith opened in 1874, the aim was to acquire portraits of all the famous people connected with the town of Stirling from the Reformation onwards.  Although the collection of portraits is nowhere near as comprehensive as we wish, the 275 portraits constitute a significant part of the Smith’s collection of paintings and sculpture.

Thomas Stuart Smith, founder of the gallery, was a portrait artist himself, and before he came into his inheritance, lived by painting portraits. His paintings of Black men which were not favoured by the Royal Academy in the 1860s are now well appreciated and world famous.