1839 - 1921
Born 1839, in Charleston (South Carolina); died 1921.
Painter. Genre scenes, local scenes, scenes with figures, rustic scenes, landscapes, townscapes, landscapes with figures, portraits, still-lifes.
William Aiken Walker went to live in Baltimore when his father died in 1842, returning to Charleston in 1848. During this period, he began painting rural farm and plantation scenes with poor southern blacks, and it was these works that built his reputation. Something of a prodigy as an artist and largely self-taught, Walker exhibited his first painting in 1850, and received his first solo show at the South Carolina Institute Fair and Courtenay’s Bookstore in Charleston in 1850.
In 1861, Walker enlisted in the Confederate Army; he was wounded and on his recovery, he was transferred back to Charleston, where he was eventually placed on picket duty, which allowed him to resume his painting. For the next two years his service to the Confederacy consisted mainly of drawing maps and sketches of Charleston’s defences until he was mustered out at the end of 1864. After the Civil War, Walker first moved to Baltimore and then began travelling to southern resort areas, where he painted postcard studies and small paintings, which he sold to tourists for between 50 cents and three dollars. Walker was perhaps the earliest artist in the South to make a living from the tourist trade.
For more than 50 years, Walker frequently visited New Orleans, Baltimore, Charleston, and several towns and cities in Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. Maintaining ties with New Orleans, he exhibited frequently at the Southern Art Union and the Artists’ Association. In the 1880s and 1890s he frequently visited New Orleans and became known for his depictions of field hands and dock workers. His recognition grew immeasurably after 1884 when Currier and Ives published four colour lithographs of his southern scenes. While in New Orleans, he also painted two skilful portraits of his close friend and patron, Robert Stanley Green, and his wife.
Walker was a multitalented artist who sang, played the piano and violin, and wrote poetry in both French and English. An engaging conversationalist, he was a welcome houseguest on his many trips.
No other Southern artist portrayed his country so prolifically during the post-Civil War Reconstruction.
Although Walker is mainly known for his picturesque depictions of the South, he was a well-rounded artist. The Monroe-Green Collection in New Orleans, which includes portraits, landscapes, and still-lifes, shows the full breadth of his work.
He featured in William Aiken Walker: in Florida, Eaton Fine Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, 2004, and in Turn of the Century: American Art 1880-1920, Richard York Gallery, New York, 1999
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Boston (MFA): game and fish studies
Charleston (Gibbes MA)
Fort Worth, Texas (Amon Carter Museum)
Lynchburg, VA (Maier Museum of Art)
New Haven (University Art Gallery)
Richmond, IN (Richmond Art Museum)
Springfield, MO (Art Museum): Plantation Scene (1881, oil on canvas)