Justin McCarthy painted a wide range of popular imagery, with a preference for fashion models, movie stars, sports heroes, and other famous people, mostly found in newspapers and magazines. He began to paint after suffering a nervous breakdown when he failed to complete a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania. He supported himself by growing and selling vegetables and doing odd jobs.
Lynda Roscoe Hartigan Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C. and London: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990)
Justin McCarthy grew up in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, son a of wealthy newspaper editor. He traveled to Europe with his family in 1907, where a visit to the Louvre inspired him to paint. His father died just a year later, however, and the family lost its money. McCarthy attended law school in Pennsylvania, but his failure to pass the bar exams led to a nervous breakdown, and he spent five years in a mental hospital. While he was recovering, his mother encouraged him to draw, and he created images of movie stars, comic strips, and sporting events. He spent the rest of his life living in the family mansion, growing and peddling vegetables and selling his paintings. After his mother died, the house fell into disrepair and McCarthy lived in just two rooms, filling the rest with stacks of unsold paintings. (N. F. Karlins, “Four From Coal Country,” The Clarion, Spring/Summer 1987)