James Kerr-Lawson was born in Fifeshire, Scotland in 1862. He came to Hamilton, Ontario, with his family and studied at the Ontario School of Art from 1879-1880. He also studied in Rome at the Académie de France, at the Accademia di Belle Arte with Luigi Galli from 1880-1881, and at the Académie Julian, Paris, from 1881-1884.
He arrived back in Canada in 1885, during this time he painted and befriended other notable artists such as William Brymner.
In 1887 he travelled to France, Italy, Spain and Morocco. By 1900 he had settled in London.
Kerr-Lawson's created realistic portraits and landscapes, he was recognized for his talent in drawing and decorative effects in his paintings. He also created numerous murals and lithographs.
He was a founding member of the Senefelder Club in 1908, formed to revive interest in lithography.
Although Kerr-Lawson was not residing in Canada permanently, he was a member of the Canadian Art Club from 1912-15 and in 1916 was commissioned by Lord Beaverbrook to paint two large decorations of Arras and Ypres for the Canadian War Records. They were installed in the new Senate in Ottawa in 1921. He was a member of The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
In the 1920s he painted a number of portraits inspired by the work of Italian Renaissance artists.
He died in London England in 1939.