Though he did not take up painting professionally until he was over 30, James Aumonier soon distinguished himself with his peaceful landscapes of Southern England, and especially his pastorals and river scenes. James Aumonier was born in Camberwell, London, on 9 April 1832, the second of the six children of Henry Collingwood Aumonier, a jeweller of French descent, and his wife, Nancy (née Stacy). He grew up with his family in North London, at addresses in Highgate and Barnet. Following the death of his father in 1848, he, and his mother and siblings, settled with his uncle, the jeweller, William Stacy, at Clifton Cottage, Willesden.
Aumonier showed an early interest in art and, while working as a paper stainer (by 1851), he took evening classes in drawing, at the London Mechanics’ Institute (the forerunner of Birkbeck College); the Department of Science and Art, Marlborough House; and the National Art Training School, South Kensington. As a result of his studies, he became a designer of printed calicos for use in furnishings at a London factory, while spending much of his spare time teaching himself to paint from nature. He was living with three of his siblings at 31 Beaumont Street, Marylebone, in 1861, and, when he married Amelia Wright, the daughter of a gold beater, in 1863, she would live there too.
They would have two sons and two daughters, including Louise Aumonier, who became a flower painter. (His nephew, Stacy Aumonier, became a landscape painter and writer of short stories.)
In 1864, Aumonier began to exhibit regularly, first showing at the British Institution and the Society of British Artists (which would gain its royal charter in 1887). During the 1860s, he and his family lived at addresses in New Wandsworth and Hornsey Rise, and, in the 1870s, in Kentish Town.
Not long after he started to exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1870, Aumonier made the acquaintance of William Morison Wyllie and Lionel Percy Smythe (the father and half-brother of William Lionel Wyllie), and they gave him advice and encouragement. He soon gained artistic recognition, though continued to work at the textile factory for a few more years. Working with equal success in oil and watercolour, he was elected an associate of the Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1876, and a full member in 1879. (It received its royal charter in 1885.) He was one of the founder members of the Institute of Painters in Oil Colours in 1882, and also a member of the British Society of Pastellists, during its short life between 1890 and 1893. By that date, he and his family were living at Oxford Villas, Southdown Road, New Shoreham, Steyning, and, while they also had a London address at 115 Gower Street, Bloomsbury, he made much of being surrounded by the Sussex countryside during the decade.
Though he made only one trip abroad, to Venice and the Dolomites in 1891, Aumonier contributed to major international exhibitions, including those in Paris, Brussels, Munich, Berlin and Adelaide, and was awarded a number of medals. In 1900, the leading arts magazine, The Studio, published an article about him, written by Nancy Bell.
In his seventies, Aumonier continued to paint, and exhibited the results in a series of solo shows, beginning with one devoted to his watercolours at the Leicester Galleries, London, in 1908. However, he died just three years later, on 4 October 1911, at 97 South Hill Park, Hampstead, London. A memorial exhibition was held at the Goupil Gallery in 1912.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including Manchester Art Gallery, Museums Sheffield and Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum (Bournemouth).
Further reading: P G Konody, rev Paul Cox, ‘Aumonier, James (1832-1911)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2012, https://doi-org/10.1093/ref:odnb/30501