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James Swinnerton

Birth place or City of origin: Eureka
State of origin: CA
Last known City:
Last known State:
Start/Birth date: 1875
Death/End date: 1974

Born in Eureka, California and raised in Santa Clara, James Guilford Swinnerton became renowned for his paintings of desert landscapes following a successful career as an illustrator and cartoonist for the Hearst newspapers.

Swinnerton was raised in the Santa Clara valley by his grandparents, after his mother died. His grandfather had been successful in the Gold Rush. His father was a newspaper editor and judge. At 16, he enrolled in the San Francisco Art Association Art School, the pupil of W. Keith and E. Carlsen. His talent for caricature led him to become newspaper cartoonist for William Randolph Hearst. His comic strip in 1892 was among the first. When he moved to New York City with Hearst, “he was making and spending large sums of money. He lived a gay, full, and fast life.” His comic strips were Little Jimmy and Little Tiger. At 28, however, he collapsed from tuberculosis and was sent to Colton, California to recuperate.

From 1903 on, Swinnerton was a painter of the desert landscape. In the beginning, the collectors rejected his paintings because the scene was not the stereotyped wasteland of the Sahara. Swinnerton persisted. As he recovered physically, he explored unfamiliar regions of New Mexico, Arizona, and southern Utah. In 1907, his subjects became favorites, including the Grand Canyon and the Indians. Good Housekeeping magazine printed his Canyon Kiddies. Over the years, Swinnerton has been friends with other Western artists like Borein and Carl Eytell, and the inspiration of younger artists like McGrew, George Marks, and Bill Bender.

Biography courtesy of SAMUELS’ Encyclopedia of Artists Of The American West, Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing


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