This following biography was researched, compiled, and
written by Geoffrey K. Fleming, Director, Southold Historical Society,
JAMES WILLIAM EMBURY (1830 - October 9, 1889)
Merchant and painter.
Born in Brooklyn, Long Island, New York, the son of Emma Catherine
Manley Embury (1806-1863) and Daniel Embury Sr. (1794-1864). His father was one of the founders of the
Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn (1859) and served as president of the Atlantic
Bank, located in Brooklyn, Long Island. Daniel
Embury owned one the finest libraries and collections of books in Brooklyn at
the time of his death. James Embury's
mother was a famous female poet and author and was the daughter of the noted New
York City physician Dr. James R. Manley (1785-1851). It was into this highly educated and artistic
family that young James was born.
As a scion of a prominent and wealthy family, Embury was early-on
able to devote part of his life to his love of painting. Though he did work, most often as a merchant,
the death of his parents during the Civil War ensured that he would have a
large income for the remainder of his life.
It is likely that it was at this point that he devoted himself full-time
to painting (some sources indicate he spent his entire career as a painter, but
this appears to be untrue).
He was married to Phila Brett (1830-1922) in 1855 with whom
he had three daughters. She was the
daughter of Martin Wiltsie Brett (1788-1879), one of New York City's most noted
merchants of the 19th century. A former
officer during the War of 1812, Brett made is fortune in the shipping business.
Embury is known primarily as landscape painter, having done
works depicting Long Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, the
White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Adirondack Mountains of New York, and
several other locations throughout New England.
At one time, during the 1870s, he lived in Bridgeport, Connecticut with
his wife and family. He also painted
portraits, including one of his grandfather (Dr. James R. Manley). This painting was created after a work by
Daniel Huntington, and was illustrated in the book “Portraits of the Presidents of the Society 1835 – 1914,” published
by the St. Nicholas Society of New York City.
He exhibited during his lifetime at the Brooklyn Art
Association between the years 1877 and 1880 where he reported his current
address as 835 Broadway (probably a studio address). He also showed in Brooklyn at the Knight Gallery
during the same period. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on two of
his pictures exhibited there in 1879:
"J. W. Embury is
also represented at Knight's by two excellent pictures. One is entitled
"The Old Settler," and represents the oldest house at Lake George.
The old log house stands out well against a rich background, and the
composition is greatly helped by the introduction of an old
apple tree at the right of the building. This artist is also represented by a
small landscape on Long Island so broad in treatment that it must have been
largely painted with a knife. Everything has been dashed in with surprising
boldness, but with a knowledge that has brought forth a remarkably strong
In April of 1880 he submitted works to the Hahnemann Fair
art exhibition, which was being held in New York City in the second floor gallery
of the first Madison Square Garden.
During the exhibition the Garden partially collapsed with great loss of
life and the destruction of many artworks.
Embury’s painting, “Settler on the
Border of Lake George,” was damaged but was deemed in good enough condition
that it could be repaired.
At the end of his life Embury and his family were residing
in Salem, New York, where they had traveled in the hope that Embury's health
would be restored. This was to no avail,
and James William Embury died in Salem, Washington County, New York, on the 9th
of October, 1889 at the age of fifty-nine.
His obituary noted that he was " . . . well known in art circles."
He was interred on the 14th of October 1889 in the Embury family plot,
located in Brooklyn's historic Greenwood Cemetery.
His works are not known to be in any public collections at
present, however a large number reside in private hands.