James Orrock, RI ROI (1829-1913) A significant collector of English pictures, James Orrock became a skilled and prolific watercolourist in an early nineteenth-century manner.
James Orrock was born in Edinburgh on 18 October 1829, the elder son of the four children of a chemist and surgeon-dentist by his first wife. Encouraged by his mother in his lifelong passions for art and music, he began to board at Irvine Royal Academy, Ayrshire, at the age of eight, and there received his first formal drawing lessons from Mr White. Going on to Edinburgh University to read surgery and dentistry, he found time to study oil painting with James Ferguson. He then moved to Leicester to perfect the mechanical branch of dentistry under the surgeon-dentist, Mr Williamson. While there, he took lessons in watercolour from John Burgess of Leamington, and began to produce paintings for exhibition based on sketches that he made on his travels.
On his return to Edinburgh to complete his medical studies, he resumed lessons with Ferguson.
In 1853, Orrock married Susan Gould of Leicester, and moved to Nottingham to establish a dental practice. This gave him the financial security that enabled him to build his collection of English pictures, blue and white porcelain, and Chippendale and Adam furniture. Continuing to develop his own artistic talent, he took lessons from Thomas Stuart Smith at the local School of Design, and began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1858.
Eventually, in 1866, Orrock moved to London to become a professional painter, and settled in Bloomsbury, living at 17 Brunswick Square (1867), 6 Bedford Place (1868) and then 43 Bloomsbury Square (by 1872). In 1870, he took lessons from William Leighton Leitch who, in the following year, proposed him as an associate of the Institute of Painters in Water Colours. Four years later, in 1875, he became a full member. Becoming active and influential in the affairs of the society, he was chiefly responsible for its new gallery, which opened in Piccadilly in 1883, for reconstituting the institute, and for gaining the royal charter in 1885. He was also elected to the membership of the Royal Institute of Painters in Oils in 1883. Specialising in producing watercolours in an early nineteenth-century manner, he possessed the gift to promote both the English watercolour tradition and his place within it through articles and lectures. He also evolved his passion for collecting into a secondary career as an art dealer, Lord Leverhulme becoming a particularly important client. From 1892, he lived at 48 Bedford Square, a fine Adam house that provided a suitable setting for these activities.
Late in his career, Orrock illustrated some books, most notably W S Crockett’s In the Border Country (1906) and two by W S Sparrow: Mary Queen of Scots (1906, with his friend, Sir James Linton) and Old England (1908).
His last years were spent at The Chestnuts, Shepperton-on-Thames, Middlesex, and he died there on 10 May 1913. His wife had died two years earlier.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the V&A; and the Lady Lever Art Gallery (Port Sunlight).
Further reading: Christopher Beetles, ‘Orrock, James (1829-1913)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 41, pages 968-969