James Roberts was born at Westminster, the son of an engraver. Between 1775 and 1781 he made preparatory watercolour drawings on vellum for most of the engraved plates in Bell’s “British Theatre”. He was appointed portrait painter to the Duke of Clarence and in 1809 published an instructional manual on watercolour painting. The DNB refers to his lack of imagination and slender abilities, and Waterhouse points out that feeble examples of his style are in the possession of the Garrick Club. The figures in the Club’s “School for Scandal” (G0003), are very wooden and in his “Hamlet” scene (769), the canvas appears to have been cut to fit the frame, as the ghost of Hamlet’s father is missing on the left.