After a childhood in Macao, China, James Brade Sword started out in life, after high school in Philadelphia, employed by a civil engineer on various surveys and earth-moving projects. In his early twenties, after sketching in his spare time, he soon turned to the study of painting.
James Sword began with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1861. By 1863, he had studied with George W. Nicholson, a landscape painter, and was deeply involved in painting. His earlier engineering projects had included the survey of Atchafalaya Bay in Louisiana; enlarging the Union Canal and digging a railroad tunnel, both in Pennsylvania.
James Sword was born in 1839 in Philadelphia. It would remain his home base, though he painted in various spots in the Northeast, including Eastern Pennsylvania, the Jersey shore, New York's Adirondack Mountains, and Newport, Rhode Island. He was a popular painter of portraits, landscapes, seascapes and genre, with pictures of outdoor sports and children, who exhibited in New York and his home city.
James Sword active life in art is reflected by his memberships in the Artists' Fund Society, Philadelphia Society of Artists, and Art Club of Philadelphia, of which he was a founder. His work is in the collection of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. His 1911 portrait of J. W. Jones, speaker of the House, still hangs in the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
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