James Wilson Carmichael, the son of a shipwright, was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1800. He was apprenticed to a firm of shipbuilders but in 1823 he became an artist. After working with John Dobson, a Newcastle architect, Carmichael began to paint local industrial scenes. In 1838 he published a set of engravings entitled Views of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway.
In 1840 Carmichael moved to Brighton where he painted several paintings including: Kemptown from the Sea (1840), The Seafront at Brighton (1847) and The Brighton Viaduct (1848) and The Brighton Viaduct on the Brighton, Lewes and Hastings Railway (1848). The last two paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848.
Carmichael wrote two books on painting; The Art of Marine Painting in Water Colours (1859) and The Art of Marine Painting in Oil Colours (1864).
James Wilson Carmichael died in Scarborough in 1868.