Latham, James (1696–1747), painter, was born in Co. Tipperary, a member of a now extinct family, the Lathams of Meldrum and Ballysheelan, near Cashel. Biographical records of Latham's life remain scarce. He travelled to Antwerp to study, possibly at the suggestion of the painter Garret Morphy (qv), and as ‘Jacobus Latham, schilder’, became a member of the guild of St Luke in Antwerp (18 September 1724 to 18 September 1725). He may also have visited Paris and London. He settled in Dublin in 1725, where he married a woman named Joan and had four daughters and one son. He was living in Trinity Street, Dublin, when he died 26 January 1747.
In his day Latham was a prolific and highly regarded portrait painter whose sitters included such eminent contemporaries as Bishop George Berkeley (qv), Peg Woffington (qv), the composer Francesco Geminiani, Charles Tottenham (qv), MP, and Eaton Stannard (1685–1755), recorder of Dublin. Latham's reputation has since lapsed, largely because of the difficulty of tracing his work, which he did not sign and was often misattributed to the English artists William Hogarth and Joseph Highmore. Recent critical research however has recovered several of Latham's paintings (often by linking identifiable engravings with their originals), and some seventy works are now known, most of which were painted in the last fifteen years of his life. He is now regarded as the leading Irish painter of the period, particularly accomplished in the skilful rendering of delicate textures (notably lace, silk, and hair). He frequently painted more than one member of a family, and produced a number of double portraits, such as ‘Bishop Clayton and his wife’ (NGI). Among his finest work is a series of four three-quarter length portraits executed for the Cosby family, of Queen's Co. (Laois), painted over a period of ten years. Pasquin records that Latham also painted history scenes, ‘but not with equal success’ (29). His reputation survived his death by some decades; in 1778 Thomas Campbell opined Latham's artistic superiority to Charles Jervas (qv), and Latham originals were owned by the painters Philip Hussey (qv) and Jonathan Fisher (qv).