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James Champney

 (1843 - 1903)
James Wells Champney was active/lived in Massachusetts, New York.  James Champney is known for genre, figure, portrait, landscape paintings.

James Champney

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for James Champney
James Wells Champney, a distant cousin of landscapist Benjamin Champney, was born in 1843 in Boston, Massachusetts.  A well-known artist-teacher, he is best known as a specialist in rustic genre scenes, using a broad, painterly, and rather informal approach to his works.  He also painted many portraits and landscapes, and stylistically was "one of the first Americans to grasp and utilize the spirit of impressionism." (397)

As a young man he took drawing classes at Lowell Institute and studied anatomy under Oliver Wendell Holmes.  At sixteen years of age, he was an apprentice to a wood engraver*, but terminated the relationship to serve in the Civil War in 1862. He contracted malaria and was discharged from the military, and soon taught drawing classes at Dr. Dio Lewis's Young Ladies Seminary for two years beginning in 1864.

Deciding to become a professional artist, Champney left for Europe in October of 1866.  His first stop was London, and a month later his travels took him to Ecouen, France where he was a student of Edouard Frere.  Two years later, he studied in Antwerp under Joseph Van Lerius, and the year following traveled to Italy where he exhibited his first genre* painting at the Paris Salon*.

He returned to Boston in 1870 to open his own studio.  He continued to paint his popular genre paintings.  Several years later, Champney illustrated a series of articles by Edward King.  Commissioned as an illustrator by Scribner's magazine, he created more than 500 illustrations, the result of thousands of miles of travel. Soon thereafter, he again departed for Europe to complete figure drawings of American life for a French magazine.

He returned to America in 1876, settling in Deerfield, Massachusetts, where he domesticated Edouard Frere's vision of rural French peasant life and translated it to the hills and farms of the Deerfield area.  An example would be Landscape of the Deerfield Valley (oil on canvas, 1877).  A year later, he turned to pastel* portraiture and illustration, under the name 'Champ', while teaching art at Smith College between 1877 and 1884.

Between 1878 and 1885, he also went once a week to teach in Hartford at the Society of Decorative Art, which later changed its name to the Art School of the Art Society of Hartford.  Champney continued to live in Deerfield with his wife, Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Champney, who was herself a well-known writer of travel and adventure stories, often illustrated by her husband.

His copies of European masterpieces and of New York society personalities bolstered his popularity and notoriety.  The pinnacle of Champney's career was in 1897 when 40 of his pastels were included in an exhibition at the Knoedler Gallery.

An elevator accident took Champney's life in 1903, in New York City, as he departed the Camera Club.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for James Champney

The son of Benjamin Champney (1817-1907), James Wells Champney (1843-1903) would become more of a painter of genre scenes, while his father focused on landscapes and flower painting.  James began studying art at the Lowell Institute in his native Boston; at the age of sixteen he was an apprentice to an engraver.  Champney served in the 45th Volunteer Regiment of Massachusetts during the Civil War and was discharged with malaria. 

In 1866 he went to Europe, as did many Americans who were hoping to achieve fame as artists.  At Ecouen in 1869 Champney studied under Edouard Frère (1837-1894) then he continued his training at the Antwerp Academy (where he exhibited in 1868) and spent a season in Rome (1869-70).  Champney would make several return trips to Europe where he exhibited at the Paris Salons of 1875 and 1894. 

For a series of articles called "The Great South" in Scribner's Monthly, the artist traveled to New Orleans during the difficult Reconstruction period (1873-74). Champney was named professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1877.  He had been exhibiting his works since 1874 at the National Academy of Design where he was named an Associate in 1882.  That year he first submitted works for exhibition at the Boston Art Club where he was active until his death.

Champney contributed In His Name to the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in Nashville (1897).  Other venues included the Art Institute of Chicago (1891-1902) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1881-91). After 1880 he worked almost exclusively in watercolor and pastel. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has two of his pastels from the 1890s: Smiling Girl with Mayflowers and Lady in Brown.  In addition, the Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts has some of Champney's works.

American Artists and Their Works. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1889, vol. 2, pp. 273-288; Clement, Clara Erskine and Laurence Hutton. Artists of the Nineteenth Century and Their Works [1884]. Reprint: St. Louis: North Point, 1969, p. 128; Soria, Regina. Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century American Artists in Italy 1760-1914. London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1982, pp. 81-82; Edwards, Lee. Domestic Bliss: Family Life in American Painting 1840-1910. Yonkers, NY: The Hudson River Museum, 1986, cat. no. 63.

Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery
Biography photo for James Champney
Esteemed draftsman James Wells Champney was best known for his refined drawings and illustrations.  Over the course of his varied career, he worked in an array of media, achieving particular recognition for his watercolors and pastels, and for his numerous translations of works by the Old Masters.  Born in Boston to the painter Benjamin Champney, he took art lessons at the Lowell Institute and apprenticed with the wood engraver Bricker & Russell in 1859.  He served in the Civil War beginning in 1862, but following a bout with malaria, was discharged. He returned to Massachusetts to pursue professional art and also taught drawing at an exclusive female academy in Lexington.

As part of his education, Champney studied painting in Europe.  Arriving back in America in 1872, he embarked on a career as an illustrator and began a major commission for Scribner's Magazine.  Working in conjunction with author Edward King on a series of articles entitled "The Great South," the assignment took Champney to every major city in the South, covering about twenty thousand miles and producing over five hundred sketches.  The graceful lines, fine detail, and scrupulous accuracy seen in this view are typical of Champney's black and white drawings.

In his work, Champney undertook a wide range of subjects—including landscapes, portraits, and travel sketches—most often working directly from the subject. His focus shifted to portraiture later in his career, when he began depicting society sitters and prominent individuals of the theater.  He also produced mural decorations for the Hotel Manhattan in New York and was an amateur photographer.  From 1872 to 1903, Champney served as a professor of art at Smith College, when he began working in pastel.  From that time forward, he worked almost exclusively in this medium and came to be considered the best pastellist of his day.

This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from the Hicklin Galleries, LLC.

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About  James Champney

Born:  1843 - Boston, Massachusetts
Died:   1903 - New York City
Known for:  genre, figure, portrait, landscape paintings