Frederick Walker 1840-1875

Artist biography

English painter and illustrator.Walker was one of an exceptional band of young illustrators working during the 1860s.

Walker's career as an illustrator, which came to an end about 1865–6, was too brief for his work to show much stylistic development. He was never a naturally fluid draughtsman, and he never achieved any great dramatic force. In 1871 Walker designed his famous poster for the stage adaptation of Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White. His dramatic image of Anne Catherick, swathed in a cloak and seen full length from behind, is generally considered the first successful modern pictorial poster and anticipates many similar designs of the 1890s. Walker himself believed that the designing of posters could become ‘a most important branch of art'.

As a painter in watercolours and oils Walker began to enjoy success from about 1863 onwards. Walker employed a meticulous and heavily worked gouache technique that owed much to William Henry Hunt and Myles Birket Forster.

Walker's study of the Antique as a student led him to rely on the formal conventions of antique sculpture in his oil paintings.

To Victorian eyes Walker seemed a sincere and unsentimental observer of rustic life. His paintings were considered sensitive portrayals of rural landscape and life. Walker's agreeable character and his early death from tuberculosis sustained his posthumous reputation, and he was an important influence on young British painters working in the 1870s and 1880s. But the idealised and sentimental quality of much of his work engendered subsequent critical neglect.

C. Phillips: Frederick Walker, Port. Monographs A. Subjects, vi (1894)
J. G. Marks: Life & Letters of Frederick Walker ARA (London, 1896)
C. Black: Frederick Walker (London, 1902)


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