Most probably exhibited: London, Royal Academy, 1856, no. 452; London, Royal Society of British Artists, 1856, no. 364; London, British Institution, 1857, no. 277
James Meadows Snr. (1798-1863)
"A Fresh Breeze"
Oil on canvas, signed and dated 1856
29 x 55 cm.
While James Meadows painted portraits, theatrical scenery and miniatures he is best known for his strong and lively maritime paintings of which the present scene of fishing boats off the White Cliffs of Dover is a prime example. He came from an artistic background. His father, William Meadows (b. circa 1753 d. 1847) was an actor and tenor singer who played with the well-known British actor, Richard Keene and is known to have sung before Lord Nelson at the Haymarket Theatre, London. James' paternal aunt, Adeline was also an actress who married the miniaturist painter, John Massey Wright (1773-1866). At the time of James's birth in 1789 his parents were living in Dublin, where his father was enjoying a season on stage at the Theatre Royal. James went to sea at an early age and by 1818 was serving as an officer on the ship Kent. For some years he lived in Calcutta where he practiced amateur acting and also became involved in painting stage sets.
On his return to England he continued to paint theatrical scenery for a number of the London stages including the Lyceum Theatre. However his formal artistic training began at the Royal Academy Schools and was improved upon by making copies after other marine painters such as Clarkson Stanfield. His early experiences at sea remained a constant inspiration for his art. He specialized in coastal fishing scenes and harbour views, often off the British Isles and occasionally off the French coast. Nearly all his exhibited works were maritime subjects. He made his debut at the Royal Academy in 1855, where up until 1863 he showed 20 paintings. He also showed 18 works at the Royal Society of British Artists between 1854-63 and 14 works at the British Institution between 1855-63.
Like many Victorian artists, James supplemented his income by teaching. He advertised himself as 'A tutor to instruct young Ladies and Gentlemen the art of drawing and painting at a charge of £1.1s for drawing and watercolour tinting per quarter with the additional cost of 10s.6d. for painting in oil'. An advertising circular from the 1820's noted that he taught perspective and anatomy and that he would undertake 'Portraits and miniatures painted in the first style in oil and water colours'. A number of his portraits still remain in the Meadows family collection.
His children were among a number of his pupils. James married Ann Cross (b. 1802) of Mountnessing, Essex and had a large family of five sons and three daughters. The sons all inherited their father's artistic talent and in turn became painters, of which the most famous were James Edward (1828-89; sometimes erroneously described as James Edwin) and Arthur Joseph Meadows (1843-1907). Although James Edward painted a few maritime subjects the majority of his exhibited works were landscapes. Unlike him, Arthur Joseph specialized in coastal and harbour scenes. The latter was also a keen musician and capable violinist. He lived with his father at Coburn Street, London until the latter's death on 5th May 1863 (James Meadows was buried nearby at Trinity Church, Bow Road). The eldest son, William (circa 1825- circa 1910) became an artist and farmer.
The third son, Alfred John (b. circa 1833) specialized in painting children; he also worked as a scene painter and became property manager of the Lyceum Theatre. Edwin Louis (b. circa 1838) was the second youngest son, who like James Edward specialized in painting rural English landscapes. A number of James' children gave birth to a new generation of artists but of the family, James, James Edward and Arthur Joseph were the best known. In the light of the growing demand for marine paintings, those by James Meadows now command high prices and are prided in many of the finest maritime collections.