“The Painter of the American Winter.”
Walter Launt Palmer’s snow scenes earned him a reputation as a master of capturing winter on canvas. Influenced primarily by the regionalist principles of the Hudson River School, Palmer’s travels through the Catskill Mountains, Hudson River Valley, Paris and Venice are reflected in his landscapes, as well as his domestic interiors and portraits.
Born into an artistic Albany, New York household Palmer grew up and interacted with many of the artistic luminaries of his time including Frederic E. Church, James and William Hart, George Boughton, Homer Dodge Martin, and Edward Gay. Palmer studied portrait painting with Charles Loring Elliot and landscape painting with Frederic Church in his early teens.
By studying with Charles Carolus-Duran in Paris during 1873 and 1874 to imbibe the new “impressionist” techniques that were becoming all the rage in France. Palmer’s work gives evidence of a compromise between the panoramic yet detailed vistas of Church and his colleagues and the more popular “intimate” snatches of nature coming first, from the Barbizon plein air painters, and assiduously followed by such new “Impressionists” as Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, et al.
In 1890 he married Georgianna Myers, daughter of an Albany department store magnate, who unfortunately died in childbirth two years later. Palmer later married Zoe de Vautrin Wyndham.
A large number of Palmer’s canvases were painted from Palmer’s detailed notes, sketches, and photographs, which he compiled over time. He also was extremely meticulous about keeping records of his works, something he and Frederick Church had in common. While Palmer’s many Venetian scenes were in vogue among his clients and provided a steady income for the artist, he was equally if not better known for his luscious renditions of snowy woods and streams.
Palmer attributed much of his success with winter snow scenes to painters John Ruskin and other Pre-Raphaelites who inspired his experimentation with blue shadows on traditional white snow. He was able to capture the variations of colors reflected in the winter landscapes around the Hudson River Valley. In 1908, the New York Times art critic covering Palmer’s annual exhibition at the Noe Galleries in New York wrote,
Mr. Palmer is a devotee of the bleak and wintry season of
the year, when everything is snowed under, that is, except
Mr. Palmer’s work, and all but one of these fourteen pictures
are snow scenes– the exception is a hot, turgid, sunny
Venice… as rosy red and warm as his snow pictures
are blue and blue, and Mr. Palmer is no less happy in both.
Walter Launt Palmer lived in Albany from 1882 until April 16, 1932 when he died of pneumonia. The Walter Launt Palmer Collection now resides in the Library at the Albany Institute of History & Art and includes diaries and personal papers, photographs, and his studio books, which document the provenance of much of Palmer’s work.