There are few artists able to portray the translucent quality of a breaking wave or convey the immense power of an ocean swell. David James was an artist who achieved considerable success and wealth as an exclusively maritime painter. He was active from 1872 painting seascapes and coastal scenes. His principal subject matter was the seas around the Cornish coast and the Scilly Isles, however he travelled widely.
In 1880, James was painting the slate grey North Sea off the coast of Great Yarmouth and 1884 found the artist further up the east coast painting the dramatic cliffs of Flamborough Head on the North Yorkshire coast. In the late 1880’s James painted a series of works on the Pembrokeshire coast in South Wales, an area particularly popular with English visitors which would have ensured commercial success. However, despite these forays, James always returned to the coast of Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, and on occasions Devon. Within the genre of marine painting James’s subjects were diverse, from topographical coastal scenes to fishing fleets at sea, clipper ships and nocturnal seascapes. However, James is undoubtedly seen at his finest in his pure elemental seascapes, compositions in which there is no land or sailing vessel, no suggestion of human existence to impinge on nature’s all-powerful sea.
James exhibited widely, at the Royal Academy 1886-1897 and was highly successful. He lived in Dalston in 1886, moving two years later to fashionable Maida Vale in West London to a villa overlooking the Regents Canal.
His work can be found in: London, National Maritime Museum.