Oil on canvas, 26.25 x 35.5 inches/Signed lower right
Hess was born in Philadelphia, PA, and as a child, he contracted Typhoid fever, which left him crippled. Hess must have expressed an early interest in art and shown some talent, as his study of art at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts was financed by a Philadelphia benefactor. Hess was an influence on well-known African-American artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859 – 1937) from Philadelphia. It was a young Hess who advised the then 13-year-old Tanner (Hess was about Tanner’s age at the time), who so wanted to be a marine painter, to consider becoming an animal painter, like himself, or landscape painter instead -- advise that Tanner followed. Did Hess’s frail health confine him to Philadelphia? Geoffrey Fleming, Executive Director of the Huntington Museum of Art (Huntington, WV) has found some information that suggests that Hess may be the same James Hess that traveled to Lawrence, Kansas in the mid-1870s to study painting with the somewhat notorious Mrs. James H. (Flavia) Canfield. While there this James Hess created a painting of the University of Kansas, titled "View of Old North College" for his landlord in exchange for rent. Records show that Hess did paint western scenes and there is also photograph by a James Hess titled "View of Old North College", dated 1870s in the archives of Kansas University (Lawrence, Kansas). Further, Hess worked with Philadelphia photographer, Charles Crowthers; therefore, one could surmise that Hess was familiar with photography. In 1886 Hess was featured in the Pennsylvania Historical Review, Writing:
"To lovers of the beautiful in art the handsomely appointed studio of Mr. J. N. Hess presents many attractions; as upon its walls are to be found many pictures that bear the stamp of originality of conception and marked artistic ability. Mr. Hess is a native of Pennsylvania. and is well known in the art and social circles of this city. He has profited by a thorough and practical training, and this, coupled with his natural adaptability for his profession, has enabled him to attain to his present enviable position as a painter. He is prepared to execute every description of wok, making a specialty of animal portraiture, and in addition to painting pictures to order he has a choice collection which he offers at remarkably reasonable prices. Mr. Hess is thoroughly qualified in every respect to give the utmost satisfaction to patrons."
Hess was working as an illustrator for the lithography firm, George S. Harris & Sons at the time of his death at age 32 from inflammation of the lungs. Hess exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.