Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Clarke Waite (1832–1920)

by J. H. Holmes

This article was published:

James Clarke Waite (1832-1920), artist, was born at Whitehaven, Cumberland, England, son of John Waite, schoolteacher, and his wife Isabella, née Clarke. He studied at the Government School of Design, Newcastle upon Tyne; the Scottish Institute, Edinburgh; the Royal Academy School, London; and for a year in Paris. He trained as an art instructor at South Kensington, became a certificated master, and in the 1860s taught at his old school in Newcastle. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1863. After becoming well known in the north of England as a genre painter, he settled in London in 1869-85, exhibiting over the period 25 works at the Royal Academy, and 117 at Sussex Street. He was elected a member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1873.

Waite's work was first displayed in Australia with four paintings at the Sydney International Exhibition, 1879-80. He arrived in 1886 in Melbourne, held his first exhibition, of thirty works, in November and became a leading portrait painter. Among his early commissions were portraits of the architect Joseph Reed, Sir William Clarke and Matthew Lang. His portrait of Alfred Felton hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria. Waite was an early member of the Australian Artists' Association and joined the Victorian Artists' Society at its inception in 1888, being elected to the council for one year in 1894. He exhibited regularly at the Victorian Artists' Society and was represented in both the British and Australian galleries at Melbourne's Centennial International Exhibition of 1888. After George Folingsby's death in 1891, he applied unsuccessfully for the position of art director of the Victorian National Gallery.

Waite's work was characterized by great detail and high finish; he was well known for his ability to render domestic animals. His paintings commanded high prices in the 1880s and 1890s when he was noted for his 'conscientious work and quiet style'; at least one critic, in 1891, considered his portrait of Lang to have been one of the best painted in Melbourne at that time. Waite made several trips to Tasmania and he had a special affection for the Ovens District, Victoria. At his last exhibition, held at the Athenaeum Gallery, Melbourne, it was noted that he had been more successful in his paintings in England than in his renderings of Australian life and landscapes. On 8 August 1920, aged 88, while staying with his sister-in-law at Woollahra, Sydney, Waite died of bronchitis and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. He was not married. The National Gallery of Victoria, Bendigo Art Gallery, Footscray Historical Society and Manly Art Gallery, New South Wales, hold examples of his work.

Select Bibliography

  • Argus (Melbourne), 11 Nov 1886, 18 Aug 1920
  • Table Talk, 21 Dec 1888
  • Fine Arts pamphlets, vol 52 (State Library of Victoria)
  • application, National Gallery of Victoria, file 283, miscellaneous letters, Public Library of Victoria (Public Record Office Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. H. Holmes, 'Waite, James Clarke (1832–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Whitehaven, Cumberland, England


8 August, 1920 (aged ~ 88)
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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