James Kinsella was born in New York City on December 4, 1858, and attended classes at the National Academy of Design in that city before traveling to Paris, France in around 1890 and attending the Ecole des Beaux Arts. While in America in the 1880s, he seems to have specialized in painting New Jersey and New England coastal scenery. Much of Kinsellas art in the 1890s appears to have centered around his time in Nuremberg, Germany, Bruges, Belgium, and Rouen, France. In the fall of 1892 he had a one person showing at Knoedler & Co. in New York of watercolor views and street scenes painted the previous summer while working in Nuremberg and Rouen ([At Knoedler &Co.], The Collector 5 [November 1, 1893]: 5). The painting "High Noon" also provides evidence that in the early 1890s he was interested in depicting Orientalist scenes. It may have been while Kinsella was abroad that he met and married his wife Katherine, who was also an artist and exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1894.
In the late 1890s, Kinsella was active in Boston painting cityscapes and in the early years of the 20th century he began to spend time regularly in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where he painted local scenery and became a founding member of the Marblehead Art Association. While he also made excursions to other places, including Quebec, Canada, Kinsella seems to have spent most of his summers working in and around Cape Ann.
During the course of his later life and career, he became a life member of the National Arts Club in New York as well as a member of the American Art Society of Philadelphia, where he was awarded a silver medal in 1903. Kinsella exhibited his work at the National Academy, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Boston Art Club, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Brooklyn Art Association, among other places. Kinsella died in New York City on January 5, 1923.