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The Levee from Canal Street, New Orleans,
William Aiken Walker (1839 – 1921)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
6 x 8 3/4 inches
Signature Details: WAWalker.
Status: Private Collection, Louisiana

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, William Aiken Walker was a successful itinerant artist who spent much of his life traveling around the South between Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana, painting rural and urban genre scenes, figures, and landscapes. Following a route of major port cities, railroad towns, and resort spots—from Baltimore to Charleston to New Orleans—he found an eager and sustaining audience for his work among tourists and notable patrons throughout the region.

Little is known about Walker’s early artistic training, but he first exhibited at the South Carolina Institute Fair in Charleston in 1850, at age twelve, and continued to show his work in the city. In 1861 he enlisted in the Confederate army, and saw action in Virginia, where he was wounded. Walker was subsequently transferred back to Charleston, where he resumed art work as a draftsman and cartographer in the engineering corps until 1864.

After the Civil War, Walker turned his attention to creating genre and landscape scenes in the south during Reconstruction. A virtuoso and prolific painter with a charming, cultured personality, he was perhaps the most active chronicler of the postbellum era, which he portrayed in the picturesque tradition of view painting. He painted scenes of city and country life with sentimental, rustic figures similar to the tattered flower woman sitting next to cotton bales in Levee at New Orleans.

Walker worked in a precise and detailed realism that he adapted to figure, genre, and landscape subjects. He portrayed African American cabin scenes, field workers, and cotton pickers, as well as the city counterparts—market and dock views with fruit vendors, laborers, and newsboys. Like this example, a great number of Walker’s paintings were small-scale, making them portable and inexpensive for the tourist trade.

With an eye for the journalistic, descriptive view, Walker also created large, detailed panoramas of southern working plantations (see p. 7), as well as city and river scenes in Charleston and New Orleans, several of which were published as lithographs by Currier and Ives. From the 1890s until his death in 1921, Walker concentrated his travel and work between Arden, North Carolina, Charleston, and Ponce Park, Florida.

Roberta Sokolitz

This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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