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James Anderson was born at Blencarn (Cumberland, GB) on March 11, 1813 with the name Isaac Atkinson.
He studied painting in Paris where he resides until 1837 specializing in watercolor views. In January 1838 he moved to Rome and with the pseudonym of William Nuget Dunbar he participated to annual exhibitions of the Society Amatory and the Belle's Arti students. He changed his name to James Anderson. He married a Roman girl, Maria de Mutis, and they had four children together.
The 1845 register of the frequenters of the Caffé Greco gives his signature with an address at Fuori Porta del Popolo N. 6, profession photographer. In the same register there is also the signature of Giacomo Caneva who also declared himself a photographer.
From this period he became a professional calotype photographer - we can not exclude that he also took Daguerreotypes but there is no proof of this at the present. Later he used albumen-on-glass but he generally preferred wet collodion. James Anderson was almost certainly a frequenter of the Photographic Circle of the Caffé Greco and some of his images show the same interpretation of other members of the group. During his first photographic period, when he used calotypes, Anderson doesn't seem to have ever signed his works and his blind-stamp only started to appear around 1855. The attribution to James Anderson of his early work is given by the blind-stamp of Jos Spithover who sold his prints or by the enumeration that sometimes appears on the photograph. Such numeration has to correspond to that of the first commercial catalogue.
In November 1855 James Anderson photographed the moon through the great telescope of Merz near the observatory of the College Romano
There survive some commercial catalogues of his works, the first was published in 1859 and listed his photographs created up to 1858. The catalogue is composed from 4 parts: Views of Rome and his outskirts, ancient Statues in Rome, ancient Statues in Roman Museums, modern Statues and the pictures. In total 451 subjects are listed and curiously expressed in two print sizes in yards, 0,25-0,35 and 0,31-0,47. Besides the images listed in his first catalogue he also took some beautiful images using a highlight wide-angle lens.
His views are generally well executed and very well printed. His works were on sale from the bookseller Joseph Spithover - which manufactured upon request albums of photographs selected by the customer. For many years he was in direct competition with Robert MacPherson who was also resident in Rome.
James Anderson participated to some international exhibitions, among which was the universal exhibition in Paris (1855), the exhibition of the Scottish Society of the Photo (1857) and the Universal Exhibition in London (1862).
From around 1870 he worked with his young son Domenico (1854-1938) and together they became increasingly commercial to compete with the growing number of professional photographers in Rome. He died February 27, 1877 and his photographic activity was continued by Domenico with notable success.
[Kindly contributed by Marco C. Antonetto, Jan 3, 2008]