James Atkins, Portrait Painter

(b. 1799, d. 1833)

Portrait Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

James Atkins. Portrait, painted by Himself; in possession of Mrs. Calwell, Belfast.

Son of James Atkins who came from Stranraer and settled in Belfast where, in Back Lane, off Princess Street, he carried on business as a coach painter and house painter, and died in 1828, aged 70. His son James was born in Belfast in 1799, and as a boy assisted his father in his heraldic painting. On the foundation of the Belfast Academical Institution in 1814, he entered the drawing class, taught by Gaetano Fabbrini (q.v.), and after studying there for four years he gained the prize medal in 1818 for portrait painting in oil. His pictures were exhibited in the Institution and attracted the attention of Mrs. Batt of Purdysburn, the Marquis of Downshire, and the Marquis of Londonderry, and by their aid he was sent to study in Italy in 1819. He pursued his studies with unwearying earnestness and devotion, and became known amongst his fellow artists in Rome as a young painter of much ability and promise. He spent thirteen years studying and copying the Old Masters in Venice, Florence, and Rome, and sent pictures to the exhibitions of the Royal Academy in London in 1831 and 1833.

At the end of the year 1832 he went to Constantinople to paint a portrait of the Sultan, and then set out to return to his native country; but at Malta, while undergoing quarantine, he was attacked by pulmonary consumption and died at Valetta in December, 1833. The year following his death the pictures which he had collected and painted in Italy were brought to Belfast and were sold by auction in March, 1835. Among them was his copy of Titian's "Peter Martyr," twenty-two feet high, which now hangs in the Queen's College, Belfast; and a "Head of a Greek Girl," now belonging to Miss Mulholland in Belfast. At an exhibition held in the Linen Hall Library in 1900 a "Portrait of Himself" was lent by J. Y. Calwell; an "Italian Lacemaker," by Robert Young; "Lago di Nemi," by Dr. H. Hyndman; "The Sultan," by Dr. H. Hyndman; a "Study of a Horse's Head," by the Misses Thompson; an "Italian Lady," by James Wilson, and "The Cobbler," by James Cleeland. A miniature on ivory, "A Child playing on a Pipe," belongs to Mr. Isaac W. Ward, Belfast.

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