James Henry Beard was born in Buffalo, NY, in 1814, but moved to Ohio as a child. He took art lessons only intermittently, but decided at the age of 16 to become a professional painter. He moved to Cincinnati, where he began to paint portraits. By the 1830s, he had become well-known, and he began to branch out into genre scenes often showing social clashes between frontier settlers, migrants, and townspeople. He enlisted in the Civil War when he was in his 50s, and manned the forts defending Cincinnati. In 1869 he moved his family to New York City, where he became renowned as a painter of animals in domestic settings.