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
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
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