James Anderson studied painting in Paris under the name William Nugent Dunbar, before moving to Rome in 1838. There he made small bronze models of sculptures using the name James Anderson. He became interested in photography in 1849, and established a photographic studio in Rome in 1853. He published his first catalogue in 1859. Anderson specialized in reproductions of works of art, but he also took views of antiquities and sites, and his work was exhibited in London throughout the 1860s. His son Domenico (1854-1939) took over the studio at Anderson's death in 1877.