The Irish landscape painter James Craig was born in Belfast but spent his youth in the countryside of County Down. His Swiss mother came from a family of artists. Craig briefly attended Belfast College of Art where he studied drawing and fine art painting, cutting short his classes to become a largely self-taught painter of landscapes.
Eschewing all intellectualism or mystique in his art, James Craig took all his inspiration from the scenery, people and culture of Ireland – above all, from what he saw with his two eyes. He never attempted to embellish or distort nature. His job, as a landscape painter was to reflect nature as it was.
Despite this fidelity to Nature, Craig was not above dramatizing his landscape painting in the style of Paul Henry. Also, despite his indifference to Barbizon landscape art, Craig’s plein air painting method was similar to that of the Impressionists, as he was at his happiest out of doors either painting or fishing. Even so, he believed in the typical Irish values of faith, frugality and community. Many of his colour schemes are consciously sober and the raw beauty of the landscape is expressed in rugged paintwork.
Craig painted in many different locations, including the Glens of County Antrim, as well as the more inhospitable coastal landscapes of Donegal and Galway. He developed no interest in figure painting, and some of his human figures are conspicuous for their lack of detail. A successful painter of his day, Craig exhibited regularly at the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1915 and was elected to both the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) and the Royal Ulster Academy (RUA).
Examples of his work may be seen in the collections of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, The Armagh County Museum, The Hugh Lane Gallery Dublin, The Ulster Museum in Belfast and The National Gallery of Ireland. The Oriel Gallery mounted an exhibition of his work in 1978.
The auction record for a work by the Irish painter James Humbert Craig was set in 2007, when his landscape painting, entitled A Soft Day, Connemara, was sold at Christie’s, in London, for £69,600