The younger brother of William Hart, James moved with his family from Kilmarnock, Scotland to Albany, NY in 1830. There he was apprenticed to a sign painter and developed an interest in art. In 1851 he went to Dusseldorf, Germany to study and remained for three years. He returned to Albany and opened a studio. In 1857 he moved to New York City. later moving to Brooklyn. After the 1870s, he and his brother William opened studios in Keene Valley, NY, in the heart of the Adirondacks.
He became an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1857, a full member in 1859, and served as vice-president for a time. Hart exhibited at the National Academy from 1862 to 1900. He also exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Association (1863-1883), the Boston Art Club (1873, 1875), the American Art Union, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1867-1883). He also exhibited at the Centennial Expo, 1876 (medal); Mechanics Institute, Boston (gold); and the Paris Expo, 1889 (medal).
Sinclair Hamilton noted that James and his brother William “painted in a language intelligible for the artistically illiterate.”
His children, Robert, Mary , and Letitia were artists, as was his wife, Marie Thereas Gorsuch, and his sister, Julie Hart Beers Kempson.
His last known address was Brooklyn, NY. An auction of his paintings was held at the Fifth Avenue Art Gallery in 1902, and 146 of his paintings were sold for a total of $20,287.
His works are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the New York State Historical Assocation, the Corcoran Gallery, and Vassar College.
Hart died on October 24, 1901. He is buried at the Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.
Images of James McDougal Hart
Left photo: Albany Institute of History and Art
Center photo c. 1890: Smithsonian Archives of American Art
Sketch: Charles O. Vogel