James Watson was born in Dublin and initially trained at the Dublin Society. He later travelled to London, probably as a pupil of Irish printmaker James Macardell. Watson exhibited as a mezzotint engraver at the Society of Artists (1762-75), later becoming a fellow and, in 1770, the Director. After Macardell’s death in 1765, he inherited the role of principal engraver to Reynolds. He also engraved works by Gainsborough, Cotes, van Dyck, Rubens and others. From c.1762 he published his own works. He was able to enter semi-retirement by 1778 and, during his career of some 30 years, produced around 200 plates, most of which were portraits. He died in 1790 leaving a daughter, Caroline (also an engraver), and a son, James Edmund (a lawyer).
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