James Hamilton

(American born Ireland, 1819 - 1878)

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 in 1875 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 (view bio). 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.”