Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Christie, James (1773-1831)

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CHRISTIE, JAMES, the younger (1773–1831), antiquary and auctioneer, eldest son of James Christie the elder [q. v.], was born in Pall Mall in 1773. He was educated at Eton and was intended for the church, but entered the auctioneer's business, which after his father’s death he carried on with increased success. Christie’s first publication (1801) was on the remote origin of the game of chess. An intimacy with Charles Towneley led him to devote attention to the painted Greek vases, and he printed anonymously and for private circulation in 1806 a limited number of copies of a disquisition, which was republished under his name with additions in 1825, Besides theories upon the connection between the figures and the Eleusinian and other mysteries, the work contains an attempt to prove that the paintings were copied from transparencies, together with a useful scheme of classification for the vases. His next literary efforts were an essay on the worship of the elements (1814), and a description of the colossal vase found in the ruins of Hadrian's villa, near Rome, formerly belonging to the noble family of Lanti, afterwards acquired by Francis, duke of Bedford. To him also is due the catalogue of Mr. Hope's vases. In 1824 he moved to the premises now occupied by the firm at 8 King Street, St. James s Square, formerly Wilson's European Emporium.

In business matters the satirical author of 'Chalcographimania' (1814, p. 5) informs us that 'he treads in shoes of great papa,' and in a foot-note 'the most classical of our auctioneering fraternity ... as a vendor he ranks very fair, and in private life his character will stand the test of the most minute inquiry' (ib. 49, 50), but hints that in technical knowledge of schools of painting he was inferior to his father. Christie also devoted himself to biblical and poetical studies. His position as a fine-art critic was recognised by his election to the Athenæum Club (1820), and to the Dilettanti Society (1824). He was for several years one of the registrars of the Literary Fund, and was a member of the Antiquarian Society of Newcastle-on-Tyne. He died at his house in King Street on 2 Feb. 18., aged 58, and left two sons, James Stirling, who died in 1834, and George Henry, still living. These carried on the business and joined with them William Manson (d. 1852), and afterwards his brother, Edward Manson (d. 1884). The firm acquired its present title of Christie, Manson, & Woods by the addition of the name of Mr. Woods in 1859. In Christie's sale catalogues may be traced the history of fine-art taste in England for over a century. Within recent memory the great historical sales have been those of Stowe (1848), Bernal (1855), Hamilton Palace (1882), and the Fountaine collection (1884).

After Christie's death, his son James Stirling printed fifty copies for private circulation of an inquiry into the early history of Greek sculpture, which had been written to serve as an introduction to the second volume of 'Specimens of Ancient Sculpture,' Dilettanti Society (1836). The committee appointed to decide the question chose instead a paper offered by another member of the society, apparently as being less speculating in character. The volume contains a portrait of Christie from a bust by Henry Behnes, drawn by Henry Corbould, engraved by Robert Graves.

His writings consist of: 1. 'An Inquiry into the Antient Greek Game, supposed to have been invented by Palamedes, antecedent to the Siege of Troy; with reasons for believing the same to have been known from remote antiquity in China, and progressively improved into the Chinese, Indian, Persian, and European chess; also two dissertations (i) on the Athenian Skirophoria, (ii) on the mystical meaning of the bough and umbrella in the Skiran rites,' London, 1801, 4to, plates, anonymous. 2. 'A Disquisition upon Etruscan Vases,' London, 1806, 4to, plates, anonymous. 3. 'An Essay upon that earliest Species of Idolatry, the Worship of the Elements, by J. C.,' Norwich, 1814, 4to, plates. 4. 'Outline Engravings, and Descriptions of the Woburn Abbey Marbles' (London), 1822, folio, contains 'Dissertation on the Lanti Vase, by Mr. Christie.' 5. 'Disquisitions upon the painted Greek Vases, and their probable connection with the shows of the Eleusinian and other mysteries, by J. C.,' London, 1825, 4to, plates. 6. 'An Inquiry into the Early History of Greek Sculpture, by the late J. C.,' London, 1833, 4to, portrait.

[Information from Mr. James Christie; Gent. Mag. May 1831, pp. 471-2; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iii. 625, 693; Annual Register, 1831, p. 223; Annual Biography and Obituary, 1832, pp. 424-426 ; Historical Notices of the Dilettanti Society, 1855, 4to; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), 1864, i. 443; Martin's Bibl. Account of privately printed books, 1854, pp. 163, 436.]

H. R. T.