James Cameron, portrait and landscape painter, was born in Grennock, Scotland. He came to Philadelphia with his family about 1833. When he was twenty-two, he moved to Indianapolis to become a portraitist, but he was back in Philadelphia by 1847. That year he married another artist, Emma Alcock, and they took an extended wedding trip to Italy. From Rome, Cameron sent an Italian landscape to the 1848 American Art Union exhibition. In 1849 and 1851 he sent Italian subjects to be exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Cameron came to Nashville in the 1850s but was soon enticed to Chattanooga by the railroad entrepreneur Colonel James A. Whiteside, who provided the artist with studio space, lodging, and portrait commissions. Cameron did several portraits of his patrons, but he preferred landscapes, especially of Chattanooga and surrounding areas, and he often included landscapes in his portraits. With his wife's help, he bought property in downtown Chattanooga in an area now called Cameron Hill. In 1859 he briefly had a studio in the St. Cloud Hotel in Nashville.
Cameron's whereabouts during the Civil War remain uncertain, but by 1865 the devastation wrought at Chattanooga had so disillusioned him that he gave up painting. After a failed attempt at business, he entered the Presbyterian ministry and moved to Oakland, California. He died there on January 5, 1882, while preparing to move to Hawaii for his health.