Came to the United States, 1830. Sign and banner painter, Albany, New York, at 15. Drifted into landscape work.
Studied at Düsseldorf, Germany, under Schirmer, 1850-1853. Painted and taught, Albany, 1853-1857. Located in New York, 1857.
Associate, 1858, academician, 1859, National Academy of Design. Served in council many years and as vice president, 3 years, National Academy.
He is associated with the Düsseldorf school of painting. Hart returned to America in 1853. He exhibited his first work at the National Academy of Design in 1848, became an associate in 1857 and a full member in 1859.
James Hart was particularly devoted to the National Academy, exhibiting there over a period of more than forty years, and serving as vice president late in his life from 1895 to 1899. Along with most of the major landscape artists of the time, Hart based his operations in New York City and adopted the style of the Hudson River School. An example is The Old Homestead (1862), 42 x 68 inches, in the collection of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.
James may have been exposed to large paintings while studying in Düsseldorf, a center of realist art pedagogy that also shaped the practices of Albert Bierstadt and Worthington Whittredge. William Hart, who did not seek academic European training, seems to have been more comfortable painting small and mid-sized works. Kevin J. Avery writes, "the bovine subjects that once distinguished now seem the embodiment of Hart's artistic complacency." (p 250 in American Drawings and Watercolors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volume I: A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born Before 1835) In contrast with the complacency of some of his cattle scenes, his major landscape paintings are considered important works of the Hudson River School.
A particularly fine example is Summer in the Catskills, now in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, Spain. James Hart was survived by two daughters, both figure painters, Letitia Bonnet Hart (1867 - Sept 1953) and Mary Theresa Hart (1872–1942). He is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
Married Marie Theresa Gorsuch, 1866.