James Dromgole Linton began his training as an apprentice in a stained-glass workshop in London. He also attended Leigh’s Art School, an independent establishment where watercolour work was endorsed rather than openly disparaged, as at the official Royal Academy Schools. Although in his youth he occasionally contributed oil paintings to various London galleries, Linton soon made his mark as a talented watercolourist, most notably at the earliest exhibitions of the Dudley Gallery – a liberal, non-selective exhibiting body that opened in 1865 and soon attracted some of the finest emerging artists of the day working in watercolour. In 1883 the Dudley Gallery was absorbed into the Institute of Painters in Water Colours, an event that coincided with the relocation of the latter to grand new premises in Piccadilly and the acquisition of its royal charter. Linton was elected president the following year and worked energetically in this prominent role – which he held until 1898, and again from 1909 to 1916 – to advance the cause of watercolour painting in Britain. He was knighted in 1885.
Linton mainly concentrated on illustrating genre scenes from British history and dramatic passages from fiction. He was perhaps most admired in the 1890s for his series of single female figure studies nominally drawn from literary works, of which his Shakespearean heroines were especially popular contributions to the annual London exhibitions. Such watercolours demonstrate his love of rendering coloured fabrics and fancy dress, a flair for which he was commended (despite ‘some lack of animation in his figures’ attitudes and expressions and an excess of blackness in the shadows’) in The Athenaeum on 4 April 1896:
We need not repeat the praise we have constantly bestowed on his technical skill in treating colour, textures… As a modeller of the surfaces of flesh and draperies and as a draughtsman of the most exacting kind Sir James has always approached Leighton himself.
The Art Gallery of NSW’s watercolour depicts Katherine from The taming of the shrew – the hot-tempered, sharp-tongued ‘shrew’ of the play’s title. The sitter, presumably an artist’s model or actress, wears theatrical costume, the dress textile printed with stylised and linear patterns based on flower forms and foliage especially characteristic of the Arts and Crafts Movement, as well as Victorian neo-Renaissance design.
Victorian watercolours, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 2017