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 Walter Biggs  (1886 - 1968)

About: Walter Biggs


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Lived/Active: New York/Virginia      Known for: magazine illustration, still-life and southern genre painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Walter Biggs
1886 (Elliston, Virginia)

New York/Virginia

Often Known For
magazine illustration, still-life and southern genre painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Elliston, Virginia, Walter Biggs spent his childhood there and became an artist of much pride to his region.   He has been described as representing "the South at its best, both as a gentleman and as an artist who painted the South with sensitive artistry and poetic nostalgia." (Reed 134)  He also became known for his magazine illustrations including for Harper's, Scribner's, Good Housekeeping, and The Ladies' Home Journal, and as a painter, his style and subject matter reflected the AshCan School* of Social Realism*.

He studied at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and then went to New York City where he roomed with George Bellows while studying art at the Chase School* (later named The New York School of Art).  Among his teachers were Edward Penfield, Lucius Hitchcock, Kenneth Hayes Miller and Robert Henri, a special influence on Biggs. Fellow students included future well-known names in American art such as Guy Pene Dubois, Rockwell Kent and W.T. Benda.

Biggs taught at the Grand Central School of Art and the Art Students League*.   In 1963, he was elected to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.  Other memberships included the National Academy of Design*, the American Watercolor Society*, Allied Artists of America* and the Philadelphia Water Color Club.

In 1986, a retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Roanoke College in Virginia.

Sources include:
Walt Reed, The Illustrator in America 1860-2000
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art

For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
Distinguished by his Southern heritage, Walter Biggs is considered one of the foremost American illustrators.  He was born in Elliston, Virginia, where he spent his youth before moving to the city of Salem when he was ten.  He attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute for one year, but left to study art in New York City. There, he enrolled at the Chase School (later known as the New York School of Art), studying with William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, Luis Mora, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and Edward Penfield.

While a student, Biggs roomed with George Bellows and was also acquainted with Rockwell Kent and Guy Pène du Bois.  He embraced a loose impressionistic technique and rich colors, but cited Henri as a key influence.  Daunted by the challenge of earning a living as a painter, Biggs decided to pursue illustration as a career and soon met with success.  His colorful illustrations appeared in such popular journals as Harper’s, Redbook, Scribner’s, Good Housekeeping, The Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue.

Prodigious in his output, Biggs created numerous illustrations and other pieces for his own pleasure.  He most often worked in watercolor and pursued colloquial Southern subjects, particularly street views.  Biggs’ technical mastery and refined sense of narrative is clearly evident in many scenes, as well as his particular penchant for social realism and for conveying a feeling of the moment, clear evidence of his study with Henri.

Biggs participated in several art organizations, including the American Water Color Society; Philadelphia Water Color Club; Allied Artists of America; Society of Illustrators; National Academy of Design; and Salmagundi Club. He taught at the Grand Central School of Art and Art Students League.  The recipient of numerous awards for his work in watercolor and oil throughout his career, he was nominated to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1963.

Biggs returned to Salem in the 1950s, where he lived out the remainder of his life; he maintained a studio in New York into the 1960s, however, and traveled there often. He left most of his work to the city of Salem and to Roanoke College, where he was artist-in-residence for many years.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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