(January 1851 - 27 August 1906)
Portrait and landscape painter, born at Warrington, Lancashire, came of a family, originally French, who were long settled in Carnarvon, and owned fishing and cargo boats trading with Anglesey. His father, Richard Charles, was a draughtsman and cabinet maker, who designed the mayor of Carnarvon's chain of office, now in the town hall, where also hangs his portrait painted by his son.
As a lad of fourteen, James Charles accompanied his father to London, where he received a desultory education while working in his father's office. He was for some time employed at a lithographer's, then studied at Heatherley's school of art in Newman Street, and finally entered the Royal Academy School in 1872.
Marrying and settling in 1875 at 15 Halsey Street, Chelsea, he exhibited his first picture at the Royal Academy, 'An Italian Youth in Armour,' and sold it on the opening day. In 1876 he had four pictures in the Academy, including his father's portrait, and in 1877 three portraits, one being of Victor Cavendish the present duke of Devonshire, and his brother as children; from this date to 1904 he was yearly represented by from one to four pictures. He also exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery.
In 1879 he was introduced to a picture collector of Bradford, Mr. John Maddocks, who appreciated his work, and henceforward not only purchased many of his canvases himself (see Sale Cat. of Maddocks' collection, 30 April 1910) but made him known in Bradford and the north of England, where he established a lasting and profitable connection.
From 1877 onwards he painted a good deal, first at Thorpacre near Loughborough, Leicestershire, and subsequently at South Halting, Petersfield, Sussex, where his subject pictures included 'Christening Sunday' (R.A. 1887), now in the Manchester Corporation Art Gallery; the landscape 'The Lost Cap' (McCulloch collection); 'The Village Post Office' (Johannesburg Gallery); and 'Will it Rain?' (Tate Gallery).
Between 1889 and 1895 he lived at Colnor House, Bosham, Chichester, where he painted 'Milking Time,' a sunny landscape with cattle (now in the Melbourne Art Gallery), and 'Signing the Marriage Register' (R.A. 1895; now in Bradford Gallery). In 1896 he moved to East Ashling House, Chichester, and engaged in pictures of rustic life.
Charles, who had spent two previous seasons in the Paris studios, visited Venice in 1891, and in the same year was elected an associate of the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris.
In 1896 he produced 'The Chalk Pit,' and a year or two later 'Souvenir of Watteau,' a fine work in chiaroscuro (now in the Johannesburg Gallery), 'In Spring Time,' and many landscapes. The two darkest months of every year he now devoted to Yorkshire, where he undertook many family and presentation portraits. The summer months of 1902 and 1904 were passed at Montreuil-sur-Mer, where some of his most charming coast- and sea-scapes were painted. During the winter of 1905 he was at Capri. Appointed judge at the Carnarvon Eisteddfod in August 1906, he underwent an operation for appendicitis whilst staying at Plas Bennett, Denbigh, in the vale of Clwyd, and died there on 27 Aug. 1906; he was buried in Fulham cemetery.
His friend George Clausen wrote of his sincerity, his enthusiasm, and of his devotion to his ideal of colour and atmosphere. 'His work is marked by restraint and delicacy of perception, as well as by freedom from affectation and mannerism and striving for effect. He had a strong perception of character akin to that of Charles Keene... The thing he most loved to express the beauty of sunlight he has painted better than any other of our tune. He was a rapid and tireless worker and had attained such mastery and control of his means that in his later years he could render his subject in the simplest way, with the instinctive directness of a master' (of Leicester Gattery Cat. pref., 1907).
In 1907, after his death, some of his work was shown in the winter exhibition of the Royal Academy, and the sale of seventy-six of his remaining works at the Leicester Gallery produced about 3000l. In addition to the art galleries named, those of Warrington and Dublin also possess examples of his work. In January 1875 he married at the pro-cathedral, Kensington, Ellen Agnes Williams (d. 1909) by whom he had five sons and seven daughters. In 1908 a civil list pension of 70l. was granted to his widow.[Private information from his daughter, Miss Nina Charles, and from Mr. John Maddocks; The Times, 30 Aug., 5 Sept. 1906; Mr. George Clausen, R.A. (Preface to Leicester Gallery Catalogue, portrait as frontispiece); Athenaeum, 8 Sept. 1906, 16 Feb. 1907; Algernon Graves, Royal Academy Exhibitors (in which much of Charles's work is erroneously attributed to John Charles); Christie's Sale Cat. 30 April 1910; Royal Academy Winter Exhibition Cat. 1907.; Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement; Charles, James by Albert Forbes Sieveking