WALKER, FREDERICK (1840-1875), English subject painter, the son of a designer of jewelry, was born in Marylebone, London, on the 24th of May 1840. When very young he began to draw from the antique in the British Museum, and at the age of sixteen he was placed in the office of an architect named Baker. _ The occupation proved uncongenial; at the end of eighteen months he resumed his work from the Elgin marbles at the British Museum, and attended Leigh's life school in Newman Street. In March 1858 he was admitted a student of the Royal Academy. But his study in the academy schools was disconnected, and ceased before he reached the life class, as he was anxious to begin earning his own living. As a means to this end, he turned his attention to designing for the wood-engravers, and worked three days a week for about two years in the studio of J. W. Whymper, under whose tuition he quickly mastered the technicalities of drawing on wood. His earliest book illustrations appeared in 1860 in Once a Week, a periodical to which he was a prolific contributor, as also to the Cornhill Magazine, where his admirable designs appeared to the works of Thackeray and those of his daughter. These woodcuts, especially his illustrations to Thackeray's Adventures of Philip and Denis Duval, are among the most spirited and artistic works of their class, and entitle Walker to rank with Millais at the very head of the draughtsmen who have dealt with scenes of contemporary life. Indeed, by his contributions to Once a Week alone he made an immediate reputation as an artist of rare accomplishment, and although he was associated on that periodical with such men as Millais, Holman Hunt, Leech, Sandys, Charles Keene, Tenniel, and Du Maurier, he more than held his own against all competitors. In the intervals of work as a book illustrator he practised painting in water-colours, his subjects being frequently more considered and refined repetitions in colour of his blackand-white designs. Among the more notable of his productions in water-colour are " Spring," " A Fishmonger's Shop," " The Ferry," and " Philip in Church," which gained a medal in the Paris International Exhibition of 1867. He was elected an associate of the Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1864 and a full member in 1866; and in 1871 he became an associate of the Royal Academy. In this same year he was made an honorary member of the Belgian Society of Painters in Water Colours. His first oil picture, " The Lost Path," was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1863, where it was followed in 1867 by " The Bathers," one of the artist's finest works, in 1868 by " The Vagrants," now in the National Gallery of British Art, in 1869 by " The Old Gate," and in 1870 by " The Plough," a powerful and impressive rendering of ruddy evening light, of which the landscape was studied in Somerset. In 1871 he exhibited his tragic life-sized figure of " A Female Prisoner at the Bar," a subject which now exists only in a finished oil study, for the painter afterwards effaced the head, with which he was dissatisfied, but was prevented by death from again completing the picture. The last of his fully successful works was " A Harbour of Refuge," shown in 1872 (also in the National Gallery of British Art); for " The Right of Way," exhibited in '875, bears evident signs of the artist's failing strength. He had suffered indeed for some years from a consumptive tendency; in 1868 he made a sea voyage, for his health's sake, to Venice, where he stayed with Orchardson and Birket Foster, and at the end of 1873 he went for a while to Algiers with J. W. North, in the hope that he might derive benefit from a change of climate. But, returning in the bitter English spring, he was again prostrated; and on the sth of June 1875 he died of consumption at St Fillan's, Perthshire.
The works of Frederick Walker are thoroughly original and individual, both in the quality of their colour and handling and in their view of nature and humanity. His colour, especially in his water-colours, is distinctive, powerful and full of delicate gradations. He had an admirable sense of design, and the figures of his peasants at their daily toil show a grace and sweeping largeness of line in which can be plainly traced the effect produced upon his taste by his early study of the antique; at the same time the sentiment of his subjects is unfailingly refined and poetic. His vigour of design may be seen in his poster for Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, now in the National Gallery of British Art.
See Life and Letters of Frederick Walker, A.R.A., by John George Marks (1896), a full biography of a personal rather than a critical kind. Frederick Walker and his Works, by Claude Phillips (1897), should be consulted as an excellent critical supplement to the larger volume. See also Essays on Art, by J. Comyns Carr, which includes a judicious essay on Walker.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)