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 James Walker  (1818 - 1889)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: historical battle, portrait, animal

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Ad Code: 3
James Walker
from Auction House Records.
Pastoral Scene, Salinas River Valley
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
James Walker, a painter of military battles and illustrator, was born in Northamptonshire, England on June 3, 1818.  In 1823, Walker immigrated with his family to the United States and settled on the Hudson River at Albany, New York.  A painting for which he remains known is a large panorama, completed 1870, of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Showing the clash of Union and Confederate forces on the climactic third day, the work was first shown in Boston in March of 1870.  A reviewer wrote that it was "at once a fine work of art and a wonderful illustration of the battle's history, the position of every regiment and battery being defined on a battle-field several miles in extent." (Charleston-Renaissance Gallery).

Little is known of Walker's art training.  It is thought that he is to have studied painting in New York City.  Upon leaving home in his early twenties, he went first to New Orleans and then to Mexico where he became interested in the Spanish-American culture.  In 1846, war broke out between the United States and Mexico.  He was imprisoned during the American siege in 1847 until escaping to the United States.  He became an interpreter for General Winfield Scott in the U.S. Army and began sketching battle scenes.  He became highly respected for later providing the Capitol in Washington with the large painting of the Battle of Chapultepec, which is housed at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, since 2006.

After the war, he established studios in New York and Washington, D.C., where he became well known as a painter of famous American battle scenes.  He completed a number of government-commissioned works, one of which was placed in the Senate.  In the late 1860s, or early 1870s, he settled into a studio in San Francisco.  There he concentrated on genre scenes of the Mexican culture of early California.  His highly detailed paintings realistically and accurately depict the costumes and gear of the rancheros and vaqueros on the cattle ranches.

Walker's works can be seen at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the U.S. Department of Defense Building, and in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

James Walker died at the home of this twin brother in Watsonville, California on August 29, 1889.

Sources include:
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Charleston Renaissance Gallery, Charleston, South Carolina

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
Best remembered for creating monumental battle scenes that record pivotal moments in American history, James Walker lived the quintessential immigrant’s dream, rising from anonymity to the pinnacle of his chosen profession. Born in England, Walker came to the United States as a young child around 1824, when his family settled outside Albany, New York. Little is known about his formal training, though the sophistication of his paintings reveals a sure understanding of academic principles. By the mid-1840s, he was living in Mexico City where he began to execute genre works based on colonial Mexican heritage. At the onset of the Mexican War in 1846, Walker was trapped behind enemy lines for six weeks, the only American painter present in the city during its siege. After escaping to territory held by American forces, the artist was recruited into service as an interpreter for General Winfield Scott. It was in this role that Walker found himself a witness at the storming of Chapultepec; the sketches he made of that conflict would later serve as the foundation for one of his most important works.

Following the Mexican War, Walker established a studio, first in New York and subsequently in Washington, D.C. Bolstered by his connections in the nation’s capital, the artist completed a series of Mexican War battle scenes and, in 1857, was commissioned by Captain Montgomery C. Meigs to paint The Battle of Chapultepec, a work measuring over seventeen feet in width, for the United States Capitol.

From 1862 through the Civil War, Walker made sketches of Civil War scenes and battles that were later used as the foundation for panoramic views such as The Battle of Lookout Mountain and The Battle of Chickamauga. After the war, Walker began to collaborate with John Badger Bachelder (1825-1894), a photographer and topographic artist who had been attached to the Union army as an illustrator for Brigadier General John C. Caldwell. In the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, Bachelder began an on-site study of the scene and the principals involved. The resulting isometric map led to Walker’s commission to create a massive painting that details the battle’s particulars. Completed in 1870, Walker’s grand canvas captures the dramatic conclusion of the three-day battle (July 1-3, 1863) which marked a turning point in the war’s tide. Bachelder’s meticulous research and Walker’s precise technical skill combined to produce an epic visual record of the event, including regimental positions, combat vignettes, Union and Confederate soldiers, noble steeds, victory, and defeat. When publicly displayed for the first time in Boston, journalists hailed the work’s sweep and substance, praising its “remarkable minuteness and comprehensiveness and . . . fidelity” and predicted it would “take rank among the first of historical paintings.” Indeed, several of the generals depicted in the work (Longstreet, Meade, Hancock, Webb, Hall, and others) vouched for its accuracy—and its pathos. After its debut, The Battle of Gettysburg embarked on a cross-country tour. Bachelder authored an account of the various detailed scenes featured in the painting which was sold to audiences at each venue.

On the heels of this considerable success, James Walker moved to the San Francisco in the 1880s. There, scenes of cattle drives, cowboys, and the western landscape captured his imagination and occupied his brush. Walker’s works are represented in the collections of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Denver Art Museum, Gilcrease Museum, United States Department of the Interior, and West Point Museum.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina
www.thejohnsoncollection.org

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James Walker is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Civil War Art

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