James Hamilton was born in Entrien, Ireland, and came to Philadelphia at the age of fifteen, enrolling at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Hamilton is regarded as one of the first marine painters in America. Stemming from his great regard for and inspiration from the works of English painter J.M.W Turner, he was referred to as the “American Turner”. His dramatic portrayals of sailing and harbor scenes gained him wide acclaim. Etched illustrations created for significant exploration memoirs of the time, including Elisha Kent Kane’s Arctic Explorations, garnered him popularity as well. In 1875, he put his art up for sale to travel around the world on his own exhibition, but died in 1878 in San Francisco, CA.
From the 1840s until the artist’s death, James Hamilton’s paintings of stormy seas and bustling ports were exhibited widely in Philadelphia and across the United States. Several works were translated into popular black-and-white prints that circulated broadly through the print clubs of the country’s major cities.