A charming and persuasive speaker, James Christie founded the fine arts auction house in London that still bears his name. He was a close friend and neighbor of Thomas Gainsborough, who painted this portrait. Gainsborough depicted the cultivated auctioneer leaning on one of the artist's own landscape paintings and holding a piece of paper in his right hand, perhaps an auction list. Christie wears a sober brown frock suit, a white linen shirt, and a formal wig. On the little finger of his left hand is a signet ring, and two pendant seals dangle from watches worn about his waist. His dress and jewelry befit a cosmopolitan English gentleman of the 1770s.
The Portrait of James Christie hung in a place of honor at Christie's auction house in London until it was sold in 1846. The auction house was a gathering place for collectors, dealers, and fashionable society. The portrait immortalized the auctioneer and perpetuated his association with Gainsborough, who was one of England's most famous portrait painters.