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 James Perry Wilson  (1889 - 1976)

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Lived/Active: New York/New Jersey      Known for: dioramas, landscape, animal and genre painting

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Ad Code: 3
James Perry Wilson
from Auction House Records.
Mt. McKinley
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known for his dioramas at natural history museums, James Perry Wilson spent many months of extensive research on each one of his works, which reflected his extensive scientific knowledge.

He also was a prolific plein-air painter, something about him that is not nearly as well known as his museum work. His plein-air method was very different from his dioramas because his landscapes were executed quickly and on small canvasboards, either eight by ten inches or twelve by sixteen. He did these paintings for relaxation and enjoyment., and for many of his scenes, he traveled to upstate New York, New Jersey, and New England, especially Monhegan Island.

He had no formal training in painting as his academic training was in architecture, and he first worked as an architectural draftsman at the New York firm of Bertram Goodhue.

As a personality, Wilson was much admired for his humor, sense of detail, mastery of science, and skills in playing the piano as well as his abilities with the paint brush.

Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.:
James P. Wilson (American, 1889-1976)

J.P.Wilson studied at Columbia University and earned a B.A. and B. AR. In 1913, Phi Betta Kappa. He was an excellent draftsman, designer and artist for Bertram Goodhue from 1914-1924 and for Mayers, Murray and Phillips through 1932. He attended the National Academy in New York City and studied there under John Carlson until 1932.

He became an artist for the American Museum of Natural History (1924-1942), earning a living while most artists were starving or working for the WPA during the Great Depression. From 1942-1957 he was the Museum’s Staff Associate Artist. He completed many murals, including landscapes with animals for the Peabody Museum of New Haven, CT and the Boston Museum of Science, the Litchfield, Connecticut Museum of Nature Center, the Royal Museum of Ottawa, the Hayden Planetarium and several in Paris, France.

His last one-man show was in 1979 at the New Britain Museum in Connecticut, 1979. In 1974, a one-man show of his landscapes (which usually are small in size because they were done on location) was rave-reviewed at the Alaska State Museum.

Wilson was commissioned to paint for Life magazine for “The World We Live In” in the 1950s and from 1965-76 he was an artist-in-residence at Boston’s Museum of Science. He lived predominantly in Boston, Monhegan Island, Booth Bay Harbor, Newark, NJ, Washington, DC and in Litchfield, CT. His finely painted land and seascapes are softened-edged impressionism based in realism.

1980, Pierce Galleries, Inc. of Hingham, MA, "J.P. Wilson Retrospective Exhibition."

Biography from American Museum of Natural History:
After graduating from Columbia University in 1914 with a degree in architecture, James Perry Wilson worked as a draftsman for nearly twenty years until he lost his job during the Depression. 

He had no formal art training and was largely a self-taught landscape painter with some early help from his family, who were artistically inclined.

Wilson began his career at the American Museum of Natural History in 1934 as an apprentice under William R. Leigh, who was working on the background painting, including a grid system for the transfer of an undistorted landscape onto the curved diorama background.  By the time of his retirement in 1957, Wilson had painted thirty-eight diorama backgrounds at the AMNH.

His background paintings can also be found at the Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Boston Museum of Science.

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