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Portrait, genre, figure, and landscape artist James Wells Champney was a member of the well-known New England artistic family that included White Mountain School painter Benjamin Champney, miniaturist Marie Champney Humphreys, and genre and landscape painter Edwin Graves Champney. Champney was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1843. As a young man he took drawing classes at the Lowell Institute and studied anatomy under Oliver Wendell Holmes. At sixteen he apprenticed to a wood engraver, but left in 1862 to serve in Company G of the 45th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia during the Civil War. Champney was stationed, along with his cousin, fellow-artist Edwin Graves Champney, at Fort Macom on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina; both made many sketches of army life. James Champney produced two books of sketches depicting camp life, rural scenes, ships, artillery, and portraits of soldiers and local people he encountered. James contracted malaria and was discharged from the military in 1863. He taught drawing from 1864 to 1866 at Dio Lewis's Young Ladies Seminary in Boston. In 1866 Champney left for Europe and studied in Écouen, outside of Paris, with Pierre-Édouard Frère. In France he also studied at the Académie d’Anvers. In 1868 he worked with Joseph Van Lerius in Antwerp, and spent a season in Rome in 1869-70. Champney returned to the United States in 1870, establishing a studio in Boston. He was among the first American painters to adopt Impressionism. Champney was commissioned by Scribner’s Monthly magazine to travel to New Orleans in 1873-74 to illustrate a series of articles by Edward King portraying the South. In 1876 Champney moved to Deerfield, Massachusetts. After 1880 he worked almost exclusively in pastel. He taught art from 1877 to 1884 at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and at the Society of Decorative Art in Hartford, Connecticut between 1878 and 1885. Champney was elected an associate member of the National Academy in 1882. He was one of the charter members of the National Arts Club and was also a member of: the Boston Art Club; Century Club; Salmagundi; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; American Watercolor Society; Boston Watercolor Club; National Arts Club; and the American Fine Arts Society, among others. His work was exhibited at: the Royal Academy, Antwerp; Boston Art Club; National Academy of Design; the Paris Salon of 1875 and 1894; the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia; Brooklyn Art Association; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Southern Art Union; Art Institute of Chicago; the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago; Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897 in Nashville; and the Knoedler Gallery in New York City. The artist fell to his death in an elevator accident in 1903. Champney’s works are among the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Curvier Gallery of Art, New Hampshire; Deerfield Academy; Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Massachusetts; and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Washington, DC.

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