Walter Nettleton was born in America but spent his early years in Germany, where his father had a manufacturing business. The family returned to the United States to Stockbridge, Massachusetts where Walter then worked in a factory for a year before entering Yale University, from which he graduated in 1883.
Shortly after, he went to Europe for an extended tour, and decided to become a painter. He enrolled in the Academie Julian in Paris and studied under Gustav Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre until 1889. In addition he studied with Emile Carolus Duran, and then returned to America, settling in New York City where he attended the Art Students League.
He traveled much in Ne
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