James Hamilton
'Sunset On The Sea'

Seascape painter James Hamilton was born in Ireland in 1819 of Scottish parentage. At age 15 he came to the United States and trained as an illustrator for books and magazines, including Blackwood’s Magazine in Philadelphia. He attended drawing school and later studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he gained additional skill in engraving and etching.

Hamilton particularly admired the work of J.M.W. Turner and Samuel Prout. Hamilton was often called “the American Turner” because of his vivid lighting affects in coastal scenes and seascapes.

What are the Wild Waves Saying? (1859, Brooklyn Museum) shows the loose brushwork often associated with Turner. Because this painting was inspired by a chapter heading in Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son, Hamilton presented Dickens with the painting when the author visited the United States in 1868, the only gift, Dickens said, that he accepted while in America.

Hamilton’s seascapes, many painted along the New Jersey coast, showed the passions of nature, sometimes those of men. The Bombardment of Fort Mifflin (date and location unknown) contrasts a level sea with leaping flames around ships and straining man in a boat.

Hamilton was perhaps best known for his illustrations in Arctic Explorations, a book by Elisha Kent Kane. Other well-known paintings include An Egyptian Sunset, The Capture of the Serapis and A Moonlight Scene near Venice (dates and locations unknown). Perhaps looking for a real-life adventure to match his paintings, Hamilton embarked on a trip around the world- but died in San Francisco in 1878 without completing it.

His work is displayed in public collections including the Atwater Kent Museum, Philadelphia; Free Library of Philadelphia; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Philadelphia Maritime Museum; Pennsylvania Historical Society and The United States Naval Academy.

~From the American Art Analog, Volume I

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