Oil on canvas, 20.75 x 13.25 inches / Signed lower left
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Hart was born in Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire, Scotland, but when he was two, his parents immigrated to Albany, New York. It is possible that his interest in art as a career was sparked by his apprenticeship at age fifteen to an Albany coach maker to decorate carriages, just as his older brother, William. William and their sister, Julie, went on to become an artists, as did James’s three children. This suggests that art was in the family genes. After he had served his apprenticeship, he moved onto painting portraits. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s his repertoire included landscapes with figures and livestock. Cows were to become one of his favorite subjects and were part of the Hudson River “formula”; however, Hart’s exquisitely detailed grand scale landscape paintings were rarely “formulaic”. He exhibited his first work at the National Academy of Design in 1848. In 1851 he traveled to Germany for formal art training, studying at the Düsseldorf Academy under Friedrich Wilhelm Schirmer. Upon his return to the United States in 1853, Hart joined the second-generation of Hudson River School artists, whose art was heavily influenced by the Dusseldorf School. He opened a studio in Albany where he taught in addition to perusing his owning painting career. In 1857 Hart and his brother moved to New York City where they opened studios. James became an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1857 and a full member in 1859. Post-Civil War New York City was teeming with Nouveau Riche who fancied themselves as being among the “cultured elite”. They found Hart’s detailed paintings of rural landscapes appealing and, as bibliophile and author, Sinclair Hamilton observed, both Hart brothers “painted in a language intelligible for the artistically illiterate”. A perfect and lucrative match. Later, he and his brother William opened studios in Keene Valley, New York, “Home of the High Peaks”—the Adirondacks Mountains. Hart exhibited at the National Academy, the Brooklyn Art Association, the Boston Art Club, the American Art Union, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Centennial Expo, 1876, Mechanics Institute, Boston and the Paris Exposition Universelle, 1889.