William Aiken Walker


Quick Reference


Painter. Known particularly for Southern genre scenes, often portraying African Americans, he also painted landscapes and still lifes. A native of Charleston, South Carolina, he was mostly self-taught as an artist. Wounded in a Civil War battle while serving in the Confederate military, he was subsequently stationed primarily in Charleston and Richmond. During this period he produced maps, drawings for defensive fortifications, and records of destruction. Later, he ranged widely through the rural South, illustrating the daily lives of its mostly black inhabitants, usually sharecropping ex-slaves. However, some urban scenes depict activities in Charleston and other centers, including Baltimore and New Orleans. Following a two-month sojourn in Cuba during the winter of 1869–70, he departed a few months later for his only visit to Europe. Despite their reportorial detail, his paintings generally disregard the problematic issues of Reconstruction and its aftermath, and only rarely do they provide insight into their subjects' psychology or social conditions. To advance his documentary intentions, he often relied on photographs as studies. A pair of lithographed scenes of the cotton trade issued by Currier & Ives in 1884 solidified his reputation as an interpreter of the South. After 1890 he turned often to pure landscape. He died in Charleston.

Subjects: Art.

Reference entries