James Wells Champney (July 16, 1843 – May 1, 1903) was an American genre artist and illustrator noted for his portraits, oriental scenes and American landscapes.
Champney was born in Boston, the son of Benjamin and Sarah Wells Champney. His mother died when he was quite young and he was raised by relatives. At the age of 16 years he began his career as an apprentice wood engraver and earned a living making wood engravings. At the outbreak of Civil War he left the apprenticeship and enlisted in the 45th Massachusetts Volunteers. He was at Gettysburg and during his service he contracted malaria and was discharged. After the war he taught drawing for a short period and in 1866 he travelled to Europe where he studied under the genre painter, Edouard Frère in Ecouen. He later studied with Van Lerius at the Royal Academy in Antwerp. He returned to America in 1870 and opened an Academy, but was soon drawn back to Europe, settling in Rome for a time and visiting Paris.
In 1873 he eloped with Elizabeth Williams, his former student of drawing, to save her from an arranged marriage. For three years following their marriage the couple travelled through Europe and were living in France when their first child was born. The family eventually settled in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
James and Elizabeth became productive collaborators. Elizabeth contributed many articles and illustrations to magazines such as Scribners and Harper's and also authored several series of travel books, often with her husband providing the illustrations. James' etchings and illustrations were very popular and were used to illustrate books not only by his wife but by other notable authors.
In 1879 the Champneys purchased a second home on New York's fashionable Fifth Avenue, where James established a studio. He also maintained a studio in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Although he spent most of his time working at his New York studio, his favourite place of work was the studio at Deerfield.
In 1880 the couple secured a contract to illustrate a series of articles for Century Magazine. For this endeavour the pair embarked on travel to North Africa, Spain and Portugal, visiting localities such as Tangier and Tétouan in Morocco, that had not been covered by any of the illustrated magazines at that time. In Europe, they encountered the works of the Spanish realist, Mariano Fortuny and the French painter, Henri Regnault, and spent much of their time following in the artists' footsteps across Spain, France and Morocco. Between 1880 and 1890, the Champneys made several trips to Europe, and in 1890 Champney opened a studio in Paris.
From around 1885 Champney focussed almost exclusively on pastels. He exhibited pastel works at the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago (1893, 1898). In 1882 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member. He was also a member of the Salmagundi Art Club.