James Skene was born in Aberdeen on 7 March 1775 and died in Oxford on 27 November 1864. He was an amateur artist and etcher; youngest child and second son of the laird of Rubislaw. His father died when he was one year old and in 1783 the family moved to Edinburgh, where Skene made his first sketches. In 1791, after the death of his elder brother, Skene succeeded to the family estate in Aberdeen and studied law, instead of becoming a professional artist. He became friends with Sir Walter Scott who described him as 'an amiable and accomplished young man, and for a gentleman the best draughtsman I ever saw'. In 1802 Skene toured the continent, making sketches and keeping diaries. After his marriage in 1806 he settled near Banchory until 1816, when he and his family moved to the New Town of Edinburgh.
He was made Secretary of the Royal Society and member of the Society of Antiquaries.
Scott continued to encourage his talent for illustration, intending to publish a descriptive volume on Edinburgh. Skene and Scott toured the Borders for scenes to illustrate the Waverley Novels. Having spent some years living in Greece, Skene finally moved to Oxford.
McEwan's Dictionary of Scottish Art and Artists.