It’s immediately apparent when you open this book that it’s a labour of love. It is a centenary tribute by his family to one of the greats of twentieth century watercolour, who also did so much to spread the word and to encourage his students.
Yes, that does sound like an encomium and, yes, it does reflect the tone of the book, and it’s meant to. To know James was to hold him in great esteem, both as a painter and a man. To go on one of his courses was to come away feeling enriched and encouraged. He always had a good word to say to and for everyone, whom he called not his students, but his painting friends. In this, he was very much the inheritor of the tradition of Edward Wesson who, in fact, first persuaded him to take up teaching.
The book itself is a summary of James’s life and teaching and also includes tributes from contemporary painters such as Robert Wade, David Bellamy and John Yardley. I haven’t been able to check that all the illustrations are new to print, but they are certainly all very well reproduced, something which didn’t always happen in previous publications. The text has been adapted from James Fletcher-Watson’s Watercolour Secrets, the revised edition of The Secret of Watercolour, which is probably the definitive work published during James’s lifetime.
If you already have a collection of books by James, whether you buy this will depend on how much new material you think there is and how much you want. For those new to him, however, a celebration which includes his own words is certainly worthwhile.