James Latham was born in Thurles, County Tipperary, in the Ireland. Possibly related to the family of Lathams of Meldrum and Ballysheehan. After some practice of his art, Latham studied for an academic year in Antwerp (1724–25) where he became a Master of the Guild of St Luke. He returned to Dublin by 1725, and may have visited England in the 1740s, as the influence of Joseph Highmore, as well as Charles Jervas and William Hogarth, is evident in his work of this period. Anthony Pasquin memorably dubbed Latham “Ireland’s Van Dyck”. Latham died in Dublin on 26 January 1747.
Several of James Latham’s portraits are in the National Gallery of Ireland collection in Dublin; one is of the famous MP Charles Tottenham (1694–1758) of New Ross, Co. Wexford, ‘Tottenham in his Boots’ and a second is a portrait of Bishop Robert Clayton (1697–1758) and his wife Katherine. In 1947 the London Tate Gallery purchased Latham’s portrait of Sir Capel Molyneux (1740), two centuries after the artist’s death in Dublin.
Latham’s obvious enjoyment of textured fabrics and trimmings is frequently revealed. The floral waistcoat and golden-detailed jacket of this young gentleman are directly comparable to the clothes Latham depicts Sir Capel Molyneux wearing. Yet a further comparison can be drawn between this young gentleman and Latham’s portrait of Sir James Cotter (1740), with Cotter once again sporting this fashionable 18th century combination of particular waistcoat and jacket.