Shannon, Sir James Jebusa (1862-1923)
One of the most highly sought portrait painters of his day, Shannon’s work has generally resided in institutions or in the families of many of his sitters, who were prominent members of society both in America and abroad. His subjects included such notable figures as Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Mrs. Nora Mellon, Queen Victoria, Mrs. Henry Bourke, and Violet Manners (Marchioness of Granby and later Duchess of Rutland).
He was very well connected to the key institutions and artists of the time. Like his esteemed colleagues John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler, his reputation was such that he exhibited at and was a member of various prestigious art societies and academies. He and Sargent were simultaneously members of the Royal Academy, and he exhibited at the Society of British Artists during Whistler’s presidency. Shannon also joined expatriates George Hitchcock and Gari Melchers in painting and holiday excursions to Holland. In London, he lived next door to Frederic, Lord Leighton, where his Sunday studio openings attracted the likes of Oscar Wilde and Ellen Terry.
American clients were likely to have seen his work as a result of their seasonal transatlantic crossings, highlights of which included visits to the Academy, the Paris Salon, and other important annual exhibitions. Shannon, like Sargent, had a distinct advantage over his American and European rivals because his American citizenship satisfied clients who desired a high-style portrait by an internationally acclaimed artist and yet wanted to “buy American.” Yet, buying American, in this case, did not mean buying on the cheap; in 1907, Shannon’s fee for a full-length portrait was a comparatively staggering seven-thousand-five-hundred dollars.
James Jebusa Shannon was an Anglo-American artist born in Auburn in New York on 3rd February 1862 to Irish parents. At the age of eight, he moved with his parents to Canada, then at 16, he went to London to study at the Royal College of Art in South Kensington under Edward Poynter, between 1878 and 1891. He won the gold medal for figure painting three years later. His portrait of the Hon Horatia Stopford (a Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria) attracted attention at the Royal Academy in 1881, and in 1887 his portrait of Henry Vigne in hunting attire was one of the successes of the exhibition, subsequently securing medals for the artist at Paris, Vienna and Berlin. Shannon soon became one of the leading portrait painters in London and his Holland Park studios were in the centre of the then most fashionable part of London, where local clients could easily call in for portrait sittings with the artist.
Shannon was one of the first members of the New English Art Club, a founder member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, and, in 1897, was elected an associate of the Royal Academy and ‘RA’ in 1909. He was President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters from 1910 until 1923 and was knighted in 1922. Shannon’s picture The Flower Girl was bought in 1901 for the National Gallery of British Art. He has paintings in several British civic collections including Sheffield City Art Gallery, Derby Art Gallery, Glasgow Museum, and Bradford Museum. Shannon was considered by many to rival John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), but between them, they were without a doubt the two most sought after portrait artists of their period. He died on 6th March 1923.