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 James Hamilton  (1819 - 1878)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/California      Known for: narrative, marine and landscape painting

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James Hamilton
from Auction House Records.
Sunset on a Rough Sea
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Ireland, James Hamilton became a landscape painter and is credited with painting one of the first American seascapes, The Sea at Atlantic City, in 1868. Few of his seascapes have survived, but exhibition records reveal that he did numerous coastal scenes from New York to Maryland.

He came to the United States, settling with his family in Philadelphia, at age fifteen.  His early teachers are unknown, but he had guidance in book and magazine illustration.  He enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and in addition to painting, gained skill in engraving and etching.

He was a great admirer of the landscapes of English painter J.M.W. Turner, and became known as the "American Turner" because of his vivid lighting effects in coastal scenes and seascapes.  His only recorded trip abroad was to England in 1854 and 1855, and he studied Turner's paintings while there.  He also had a studio in Wilmington, Delaware, but mainly he lived in Philadelphia.

One of Hamilton's paintings, What Are the Wild Waves Saying, was inspired by a scene from Charles Dicken's novel Dombey and Son.  Hamilton gave the painting to Dickens, and Dickens, expressing much appreciation, later said it was the only gift he accepted during his American tour.

Hamilton also became well known for illustrations of the book Arctic Explorations by Elisha Kent Kane. In 1878, he died in San Francisco, attempting but not completing a trip around the world.

Source: James McClelland, "Ship to Shore", Art & Antiques, July 2004, p. 62

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Etrien near Belfast, Ireland on Oct. 1, 1819. Hamilton immigrated to Philadelphia in 1834 and was exposed to some of the finest painters of that time. He received encouragement and criticism from engraver John Sartain and others, but remained self-taught. After establishing himself in Philadelphia as a marine painter, his many painting students included Peter and Thomas Moran. After his first exhibition in 1840 at the Artists Fund Society, he exhibited in Boston, Baltimore, Washington, NYC, and London. It was his painting, Capture of the Serapie, a marine of John Paul Jones' sea victory, that made him famous at an early age. He became known as "The American Turner" and was internationally famous by the time he moved to San Francisco in 1875. He joined the San Francisco Art Ass'n and established a studio at 309 California Street where he painted the maritime activities of San Francisco Bay. His romantic compositions often include ship wrecks, naval battles, fires and storms at sea. Three years after arriving in San Francisco, Hamilton died on March 10, 1878. His funeral was held in the rooms of the San Francisco Art Ass'n with prominent local artists as pallbearers. Exh: Mechanics' Inst. (SF), 1876-80; Calif. State Fair, 1881. In: Oakland Museum (Clipper Ships off Golden Gate); Brooklyn Museum; Boston Museum; MM; Philadelphia Maritime Museum; Pennsylvania Historical Society; PAFA; Atwater Kent Museum (Philadelphia).
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs (Bénézit, E); Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle); History & Ideals of American Art (Neuhaus); New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America (Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace); James Hamilton, American Marine Artist cat. (Brooklyn Museum, 1966).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
JAMES HAMILTON (1819-1878)

James Hamilton was born at Entrien near Belfast, Ireland and immigrated with his family to the United States in 1834 at the age of fifteen. They settled in Philadelphia, where he secured formal instruction and began his artistic career in the 1840s, exhibiting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and later at the National Academy of Design in New York. Hamilton traveled to Great Britain in 1854 to study the paintings of James M. W. Turner and other English landscape masters. Returning to Philadelphia, he produced lithographs from field drawings that Elisha Kent Kane had created for his 1856 book, Arctic Explorations: The Second Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin.

In succeeding decades, Hamilton worked actively as a landscape artist and became best known for dramatic marine scenes of all kinds, including several battle paintings, among them, The Battle of Fort St. Philip and Fort Jackson.

In 1875, Hamilton auctioned a large group of paintings and moved with his family to San Francisco to paint scenes of the Pacific Coast, with plans to continue a worldwide trip westward. He died in San Francisco unexpectedly three years later in 1878.

While in San Francisco, Hamilton came to know Charles Dorman Robinson (1847-1933); Hamilton’s example may have inspired his younger colleague to take up the Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip subject many years later. Robinson’s monumental The Battle of Fort St. Philip (1902, oil on canvas, 60 x 108 inches, Charleston Renaissance Gallery) accurately portrays the battle at night, warships tightly packed under a fiery sky. The painting’s stunning size and drama also reveal the influence and traditions of Turner.

There have been numerous other versions of this historic battle, offered in both paintings and prints. In 1862, J. Joffray painted Farragut’s Fleet Passing Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip (Chicago Historical Society, Illinois). Mauritz F. H. De Haas (1832-95), who was briefly Robinson’s instructor, painted Farragut’s Fleet Passing the Forts below New Orleans in 1867 (Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York). Xanthus Smith (1839-1929) depicted the scene in Naval Battle for New Orleans, April 24, 1862 (1872, Atwater Kent Museum, Philadelphia). A popular color lithograph, The Splendid Naval Triumph on the Mississippi, April 24th, 1862, was published in 1862 by Currier & Ives, and Charles H. Parsons (1821-1910) created an imaginative lithograph of the scene.

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


Biography from Schwarz Gallery:

James Hamilton was born in Entrien, near Belfast, Ireland, and immigrated with his family to Philadelphia in 1834.  An English patron named William Erwin financed his education at Mr. Luddington's School on Pine above Second Street.  Hamilton briefly worked at a counting house but showed some of his early works to the mezzotint engraver John Sartain (1808–1897) who encouraged him to become an artist.

Hamilton obtained a position as a drawing instructor, and the brothers Edward Moran (1829–1901) and Thomas Moran (1837–1926) were among his students.  Hamilton exhibited for the first time at the Artists’ Fund Society in Philadelphia in 1840.  He exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1843 to 1856 and at the National Academy of Design from 1846 to 1847. 

Hamilton worked as an illustrator for John Frost’s Pictorial History of the American Navy (c. 1845) and later collaborated with Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane by providing illustrations for The U.S. Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin (1853) and Arctic Explorations (1856).

Hamilton traveled to London in 1854 and remained for two years.  During this time he was deeply influenced by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), whose work he had already studied through engravings.  After returning to the United States, Hamilton rapidly rose to being one of the country’s foremost marine painters.

He sold off the contents of his studio through the dealer James S. Earle in1875 to finance a trip around the world. Hamilton moved to San Francisco in 1876 and died there two years later.

Hamilton’s early works were mostly topographical landscapes and seascapes of various sites along the Atlantic coast that reflected the influence of Thomas Birch (1779–1851). His mature work was characterized by its loose, painterly technique, along with the use of rich color and dramatic lighting effects, for which he was known as “the American Turner.”

Sources include: Notes: 1. The standard study of Hamilton is Arlene Jacobowitz, "James Hamilton, 1819–1878: American Marine Painter" [exh. cat.] (New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1966).


Biography from Roger King Fine Art, A - G:
During his time, James Hamilton was unique in America for paintings that combined a sense of Romantic drama with history.  Born in Ireland, Hamilton came to America at the age of fifteen.  He worked in Philadelphia for over thirty years, training as an illustrator, attending drawing school and later the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Initially he painted landscapes, exhibiting in Pennsylvania, New York and Boston.  He taught drawing; one of his students was Thomas Moran.  In the 1850's Hamilton traveled to England, where he was greatly influenced by the work of J.M.W. Turner.

Hamilton's technique was characterized by sketchy brush strokes and a sense of fluidity, the Romantic interpretation of light, the use of "silvery" colors, and a sense of drama.  Like other painters/ explorers of the 19th Century, Hamilton was an avid traveler, and illustrated Elisha Kent Kane's 1857 book, Arctic Explorations.  In 1975 he auctioned off over one hundred of his own paintings to finance a trip around the world, a voyage that was never realized because Hamilton died in San Francisco in 1878, soon after embarking. 

In the years before his death, Hamilton painted along the New England and Mid-Atlantic Coast, particularly New Jersey.  He left a varied body of work: in addition to his earlier landscapes, engravings and illustrations, he painted seascapes, storm scenes, naval battles and Civil War scenes, though he is best known today for his dramatic marine paintings.


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