James Frothingham, born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, began his artistic career as a chaise painter in his father's chaise manufactory. He taught himself portraiture. Carriages sat still, but they didn't pay a little more to have themselves painted in the most flattering way. By 1806, he had decided to paint portraits full-time.
Frothingham began by painting portraits of family members; and by about age 20, he had abandoned the carriage-making trade all together. In the Boston area, he studied under Gilbert Stuart, who said of one of Frothingham's head portraits, "No man in Boston but myself can paint so good a head." But, reportedly the older painter, perhaps in his cups, advised Frothingham to adopt another, less precarious means of earning a livelihood. Meanwhile the young artist did not take Stuarts' sage advice but did incorporate elements of Stuart's style into his own work, especially the transparent flesh tones.
He practiced for 20 years before moving to New York City in 1826, with his wife & 3 children. He actively painted portraits in Boston & Salem, Massachusetts for more than a decade. He exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum & the National Academy of Design. The latter institution elected him an associate member in 1828, & a full academician in 1831. He served as its corresponding secretary there in 1844. Frothingham was particularly active during the 1830s, but his production fell off at about age 60. He spent the last 2 decades of his life in Brooklyn, where he died in 1864. His daughter Sarah became a painter of miniature portraits.