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Vice-Admiral Sir William Milbourne James (1881-1973)

Oil paintings

Object connections:

Collection Oil paintings, Fine art
Gallery locationNot on display
PeopleDepiction: James, William Milbourne

Object details:

Object ID BHC2802
Description Oil painting of Sir William Milbourne James (1881-1973), when a vice-admiral, by Captain Arthur Douglas Wales-Smith, RN (1888-1966). The portrait is a half-length showing him seated to left but with his head turned to face the viewer, in unifom against a curtained background. His hands are clasped round his right knee, which is crossed over his left, the lower legs being out of frame. It has been signed by the artist. James was a younger son of Major William James, a cavalry officer, and his wife Effie, daughter of the painter Sir John Everett Millais. When he was four Millais used him as model in the celebrated painting later known as as 'Bubbles' and famous as an advertisement for Pears Soap. (It was originally entitled 'A Child's World' at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886 and was first sold to Sir William Ingram for publication by the 'Illustrated London News' before he resold it to T. J. Barratt of Pears for 2000 guineas.) James was familarly known by the nickname 'Bubbles' for the rest of his life, and its currency when he was the stalwart and popular commander-in-chief at Portsmouth during World War II is shown in Richard Eurich's painting of Portsmouth after air raids (BHC1571). In this the graffito, 'Good old Bubbles', appears daubed on a wall. James joined the Navy in 1895 and by 1913 was second-in-command of the battleship 'Queen Mary' under Reginald (Blinker) Hall, transferring to become flag commander to Doveton Sturdee in 'Benbow' early in 1916, including at Jutland. In 1917 as a captain he was posted to serve again under Hall, then Director of Naval Intelligence, during which time he also began to develop as both a poet and a writer. In 1923 he became deputy director of the Royal Naval Staff College at Greenwich and director in 1925, his study of the American War of 1775-83, 'The Royal Navy in Adversity' (1926) being based on his lectures there. From late 1928, as a rear-admiral, he was chief of staff to Admiral Chatfield, first in the Atlantic and then the Mediterranean Fleets. In 1932 he commanded the battle-cruiser squadron, being promoted to vice-admiral, and in 1935-38 became deputy chief of naval staff in London, and admiral in the latter year. After commanding at Portsmouth from 1939 to 1942, he became both chief of naval information and Conservative MP for Portsmouth, but retired before the 1945 election. His later life was spent as a writer of many books, most but not all on naval subjects including biographies of Nelson and St Vincent. As both Lees-Knowles Lecturer at Cambridge (1947) and from that year the naval editor of Chambers Encyclopedia he continued to be a lively source of information for naval historians.
Date made circa 1945

Artist/Maker Wales-Smith, Arthur Douglas
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 1023 mm x 769 mm x 21 mm
  • Vice-Admiral Sir William Milbourne James (1881-1973) (BHC2802)
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