New Jersey Remembered: A Seventy-fifth Anniversary; Philadelphia Collection 75; October 2005
James Hamilton
Beach at Atlantic City
Oil on canvas, 11 5/8 × 22 1/4 inches
Signed at lower right: “J Hamilton”
Label (printed): “Loan to/BROOKLYN MUSEUM/from/3.66.210/Preston.”
Exhibited : Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, James Hamilton, 1819–1878: American Marine Painter (March 28–May 22, 1966), no. 55

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.1 Hamilton’s early works were mostly topographical landscapes and seascapes of various sites along the Atlantic coast that reflected the influence of Thomas Birch (see plate 1). 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.”

For the last twenty years of his career Hamilton painted scenic areas around Philadelphia and was active in Atlantic City, Cape May, and Cumberland County in New Jersey. Located about 65 miles northeast of Philadelphia on New Jersey’s south shore, Atlantic City became an immensely popular summer resort after it was developed and made accessible by the Camden and Atlantic Railroad in 1854. Hamilton probably painted these two views of Atlantic City in 1868, when he is known to have visited the city in August and September through a number of dated paintings, among them The Sea at Atlantic City (Sewell C. Biggs Museum of American Art, Dover, Delaware).2 It is likely that these paintings were related to On the Beach at Atlantic City (location unknown) that the artist exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1868.3 When Beach at Atlantic City was exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in 1966, it was singled out for praise by John I. H. Baur, who commented that it was “delicate, sketchy, filled with a subdued and silvery light, almost Whistlerian in its atmospheric unity.”4


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

2. William H. Gerdts, The Sewell C. Biggs Collection of American Art: A Catalogue, vol. 2, Paintings and Sculpture (Dover, Del.: Biggs Museum of American Art, 2002), p. 301.

3. What is presumably a study for that painting is illustrated in Artists of 19 th Century Philadelphia, Philadelphia Collection, vol. V (Philadelphia: Schwarz Gallery, 1978), pl. 7.

4. John I. H. Baur, “A Romantic Impressionist: James Hamilton,” The Brooklyn Museum Bulletin, vol. 12 (spring 1951), p. 6.

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