Circa 1702 - London - 1752
James Seymour was born in London, the son of a banker, goldsmith and diamond merchant, who supplied plate for racing trophies. Seymour’s father was an amateur artist, a member and, in 1702, a Steward of the Virtuosi Club of St Luke, to which John Wootton and Peter Tillemans also belonged.
Seymour began to draw at an early age and studied pictures and prints in his father’s collection. In 1720 he attended the art academy in St Martin’s Lane founded by Louis Chéron and John Vanderbank; the raffish Vanderbank became a friend. Encouraged by his father, he received introductions to the leading artists of the day. Seymour developed a passion for horse racing and is believed to have owned racehorses. He was among the first English painters to specialise exclusively in sporting subject matter. In 1739 the Universal Spectator declared that Seymour was ‘reckoned the finest draughtsman in his way [of horses, hounds etc.] in the whole world’. George Vertue noted his ‘genius to drawing of Horses’, as well as his life as a young rake: ‘the darling of his Father run thro some thousands – livd gay high and loosely – horse raceing gameing women &c.’ (Note books, vol. III, p.86). Seymour’s prolific output in paintings and sketches belies this portrait of indolence.
Among Seymour’s patrons were the banker Peter Delmé, John Jolliffe, MP and the 6th Duke of Somerset. He was commissioned by the latter to decorate a room with portraits of racehorses; however, they quarrelled and the project never materialised. Many of Seymour’s racing, hunting and stable scenes were engraved, among them Twelve Prints of Hunter and Running Horses (c.1750) and thirty-four racehorse portraits (1741-54). According to Vertue, the latter part of Seymour’s life ‘was spent in the lowest circumstances of debt’ (op. cit., vol. III, p.86). He died unmarried in Southwark on 30th June 1752.
The work of James Seymour is represented in Tate Britain, London; the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA.