James Barret inherited the post of Master Painter at Chelsea Hospital, London, from his father George Barret, a landscape painter. His two brothers and his sister were also artists. He specialised in landscapes and travelled to Wales and to Scotland in search of picturesque sights. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, from 1785 until 1819 and always gave a London address. His views from Scotland include the first known depictions of the landscapes of the Western Isles as well as Loch Lomond, Aviemore and Balnagowan.