Watson, James (c.1740–1790), mezzotint engraver, was born in Dublin but there are few details of his family or early life; his older brother was William Watson (d. 1765), painter of portraits and historical subjects. Educated at the Dublin Society schools, James trained as a mezzotint engraver in London, probably under James MacArdell (qv). In 1762 he held his first exhibition at the Society of Arts in London, and he displayed nineteen prints over the next three years; thirteen of these followed the style of Joshua Reynolds. Several of his portraits were of Reynolds's friends and he also did some full-lengths of society beauties (for example, his ‘Lady Stanhope’), which were highly regarded. Towards the end of his career he worked for John Boydell, and after 1775 began publishing prints himself. Around 1780 he retired, a wealthy man. He died 22 May 1790 at his home in Fitzroy St., London, and was buried at Marylebone cemetery. He married Mary Judkins and had one son and one daughter. His son, James Edward, was a successful barrister and his daughter, Caroline Watson (c.1760–1814), was a respected stipple engraver. Born in London, she followed her father in having a successful career as an engraver and was also employed by Boydell. In 1785 she became engraver to Queen Charlotte. Excelling at miniatures, and noted for her delicate engraving, she also made large plates including some for the Boydell Shakespeare gallery. She died 10 June 1814 in London. One of the leading mezzotinters of his day, James Watson produced about 160 portraits, a large number of plates, and some historical pieces. His interpretations of Reynolds's works are rightly admired for their subtlety and delicacy.
Gentleman's Mag., lxxxiv (1814), 700; J. Chaloner Smith, English mezzotinto portraits, iv (1900), 1487–548; G. Goodwin, Thomas Watson (1904); Bryan's biographical dictionary of painters and engravers, v (1905) [includes chronological catalogue]; Strickland; David Alexander, ‘The Dublin group: Irish mezzotint engravers in London, 1750–75’, Ir. Georgian Soc. Bull., xvi (1973), 73–89;