Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow


James Staats Forbes

Nationality: Scottish
Date of birth: 1823.03.07
Place of birth: Aberdeen
Date of death: 1904.04.05
Place of death: Garden Corner, Chelsea Embankment, London
Category: collector


James Staats Forbes was an engineer, railway manager and collector. His brother William was also an engineer and manager of of the Midland Great Western railway in Ireland.


Born in Aberdeen, Forbes was raised in London where he became a draughtsman in the office of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and later an engineer. He went on to make a successful career at the Great Western Railway. He became known for his management and financial skills in rescuing near bankrupt companies, notably the Dutch-Rhenish railway, the Chatham and Dover line and the Metropolitan District railway. Later in life his appointments included the chairmanship of several electricity companies and a directorship at the Lion Fire Insurance Company.

A keen collector, his taste was for works of the Barbizon School and for Dutch painting. He also owned several works by Whistler including Blue and Silver: Trouville y066; The Girl in Red y312; Grey and Brown: The Sad Sea Shore y330; The Widow y459; Violet and Blue: The Red Feather y503; Grey and Gold: High Tide at Pourville y523 and Blue and Silver: Boat Entering Pourville y524.

There are portraits of Forbes by Harry Furniss and George Charles Beresford in the National Portrait Gallery, London and in 1900 he was caricatured by 'Spy' (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair (vol. 32, pl. 775).


Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004, on-line edition.