The son of a carver, engraver and latterly a print dealer, James Ramsay was brought up in a creative environment. He demonstrated artistic flair from a young age and at the age of fifteen joined the family business. In 1803 Ramsay decided to move to London. The same year he had a painting accepted by the Royal Academy and in 1805 he entered the Royal Academy Schools. He quickly became established as a successful portrait painter and continued to exhibit with the Royal Academy alongside the British Institute and the Society of British Artists. He remained in London until 1848, when he decided to move to Newcastle Upon Tyne.