Born in Belfast in 1877, James Humbert Craig grew up at Bangor, Co. Down, in a house named ‘Craigwelyn’, on the Ballyholme Road. The eldest, and only boy, in a family of several children, he was taught painting and drawing from an early age by his mother Marie Sabine Metzenen (1854-1927), who came from Lausanne in Switzerland. After working for a time in his father Alexander’s tea importing business, Craig took up painting fulltime. Although he attended classes at the Belfast School of Art, he was largely self-taught, and specialised in depicting the landscapes of counties Donegal, Galway, Mayo, and particularly the Glens of Antrim, around Cushendun, where he had a house named Tornamona Cottage. In 1915 Craig began showing his work at the RHA, and a decade later was elected an associate member of the Academy: in 1928 he was elected a full member, and also that year participated in a group exhibition of Irish artists, at the Fine Art Society in London.
Over the years Craig was to exhibit regularly with the Fine Art Society. In 1930, on the foundation of the Royal Ulster Academy, he was elected a member, and that year also he was included in the prestigious exhibition of Irish art held in Brussels. His approach to landscape painting combined an Impressionist plein-air tradition with a solidly-grounded realism, not unlike that of Paul Henry, who was an early influence on his work. Craig spent some time in the United States—his work was shown at the Olympic Art Exhibition in Los Angeles in 1932—and he travelled also in Switzerland, France and Spain. He had little interest in Modernist innovations, and remained a solidly Realist painter. A memorial exhibition of his work was held at the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery in 1945, a year after his death. There is a fine collection of Craig’s paintings at Bangor Castle, in a museum maintained by Ards and North Down Borough Council.
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