James Hamilton Hay was born in Birkenhead, part of the conurbation of Liverpool. The son of an architect, he worked in his father’s office for three years, before attending Liverpool School of Art and in the later 1890’s he studied painting under Talmage and Julius Olsson at St.Ives. A natural master of composition and perspective, James Hamilton Hay had a passion for Japanese colour prints and this influence is reflected in the decorative nature of many of his works.
Aside from three experimental etched plates made between 1898 and 1900, James Hamilton Hay did not make any original prints until 1913. Inspired by the example of Francis Dodd (to whom he sat for a drypoint portrait in 1912), he took up drypoint engraving. James Hamilton Hay's style was much influenced by his friend and housemate, Henry Rushbury, and by Dodd’s own. Over the following three years, J.Hamilton Hay made 50 original drypoints. Sadly, his delicate constitution gave way to serious illness and he died after a series of operations in 1916.
None of James Hamilton Hay’s plates was ever published in a formal edition and all are now scarce.