Sydney Ure Smith was the son of John Smith, steward with the Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and his wife Elizabeth Catherine, née Ure. He moved between Melbourne and Sydney because of his father's career as a hotel manager. Educated mainly at Queens College, St Kilda, and Sydney Grammar School, Ure Smith left school in 1902 to train as an artist at Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School. Here he mixed with artists and writers in the Bulletin set, building relationships that would continue for many years.
By 1906, Ure Smith had mastered etching and joined with Harry Julius A])(q.v.) to establish the Smith and Julius Studios. Smith and Julius maintained a large list of prominent clients because of its devotion to innovative design and advanced printing techniques. Producing many advertisements for these clients, the studio was able to provide work for many artists, raising Ure Smith's profile in both the business world and the art world. He has been portrayed by one biographer as Australia's 'most versatile arts entrepreneur' in his time.
As a teenager, Ure Smith had produced an in-house magazine for his father's hotel. He drew on this experience to publish three successful and influential magazines. The first of these was Art in Australia (1916-1942), a high quality publication that contained the prints of many significant graphic artists. Art in Australia was joined by the Home (a magazine devoted to architecture, interior design and the arts) in 1921, both now published by Art in Australia Ltd. The magazines were sold to the Fairfax group in 1934. Ure Smith subsequently turned to a new magazine Australia: National Journal (1939-1947), continuing to produce a magazine of high quality during war-time restrictions.
In addition to his publications, Ure Smith continued to enhance his reputation as an etcher. His illustration of publications such as Old Sydney (1911) were early attempts to encourage the conservation of Australia's colonial heritage. Ure Smith held the influential presidency of the Society of Artists (1921-48), was a trustee of the National Gallery of NSW (1927-47; vice-president 1943-47) and helped to organise many exhibitions in Australia and overseas. He was awarded the Society of Artists medal in 1931 and received an OBE in 1937. But, despite maintaining a position of influence for so long, his conservative responses to modernist tendencies did not escape criticism by some members of the avant garde.