James Stark is best known for his landscape painting. He captured the timeless rural labours of sheep dipping and the peaceful rustic life of the streams and meadows of East Anglia. He favoured vast horizons and deep skies in his landscapes. He was an important member of 'The Norwich School', a group of landscape painters working in Norwich during the early nineteenth century. These artists were united by comradeship, family and master-pupil links, resulting in a similar stylistic treatment of the countryside. John Crome was the founding spirit behind the association of artists which consolidated into the Norwich Society of Artists in 1803. His works were considerably influenced by the Dutch seventeenth century masters, a characteristic of many Norwich School paintings. Stark first studied with John Crome and later moved to London where he entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1817. His early works show the direct influence of Crome and the Dutch artist, Hobbema, who was Crome's favourite painter. He spent a brief period in Yarmouth following his marriage in 1821 to Elizabeth Dinmore, and then returned to Norwich where he became much sought after for his exquisite views of the surrounding scenery.
James Stark moved to Windsor in 1839, where he remained for ten years and painted many local views. There he befriended the well known artist, Edmund Bristow. In his early period in Norwich, Stark painted the local densely vegetated landscape with a thick painterly stroke; his later work uses broader and more open compositions. Stark moved to London in 1850 to enable his son, Arthur James Stark, to attend the Royal Academy Schools, and remained in London for the rest of his life. He exhibited prolifically throughout his career at the Norwich Society of which he became a member in 1812. Stark showed at many venues including the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street, the Old Watercolour Society and the New Watercolour Society.
He exhibited a hundred and thirty seven works at the British Institution between 1814 and 1859.
The work of Stark is represented in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, the Manchester City Art Gallery, the Castle Museum, Norwich, the Nottingham City Art Gallery, the Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield and the Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Canada.