James Leathart, collector, was the son of a struggling mining engineer and prospector. He married Maria Hedley, daughter of a prosperous soap manufacturer and Mayor of Newcastle. At his death, they had ten surviving children. Leathart lived at 12 Framlington Place, Newcastle, and after 1869, Bracken Dene, Low Fell, Gateshead.
Leathart was a Newcastle lead manufacturer and a patron of artists who included JW and the Pre-Raphaelites. Leathart had worked his way up through the firm of Locke, Blackett & Co., Newcastle, from his apprenticeship at the age of fourteen through his own studies in chemistry and metallurgy. In 1846 he was put in charge of a new plant at St. Anthony's on the Tyne and was made a partner. Five years later he was promoted to joint managing partner and at the same time became interested in collecting art.
Initially, through his position as Secretary of the Newcastle School of Art, he bought local artists and watercolours, but William Bell Scott, head of the School, soon encouraged him to buy the Pre-Raphaelites and other contemporary artists. A large part of his collection was commissioned directly from artists. In November and December 1863, Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown urged him to buy Wapping (YMSM 35), for 800 guineas, but it was bought by Thomas Winans in 1864 for £350. He did own Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks (YMSM 47).
Despite Locke, Blackett & Co. being the largest lead-manufacturers on Tyneside, the company suffered financial losses from foreign competition in the 1870s. Due to his own increasing financial difficulties, Leathart was forced to sell his collection in the 1890s, and he died leaving an estate of £14,924. Many of his paintings are now in public collections, like Ford Madox Brown's Work (1852-65; Manchester City Art Galleries) and Albert Moore's A Musician (1865-66; Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund).
Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995; Macleod, Dianne Sachko, Art and the Victorian Middle Class: Money and the Making of Cultural Identity, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 440-1.