Martha Walter (1875 – 1976)
Martha Walter was best known as a painter of colorful beach scenes and landscapes. Influenced by the French impressionists during her travels abroad, these canvases were spontaneously executed with a palette of vivid colors.
Walter was born in Philadelphia in 1875. She enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she studied under William Merritt Chase, who became her primary mentor. At his insistence, she entered a number of Academy student competitions and eventually won a prestigious Cresson Traveling Scholarship in 1908. This award enabled her to travel throughout Europe, where she continued her art education at the Grande Julien in Paris. Soon disenchanted with the academicism of the Parisian schools, Walter set out on her own and began producing plein-air paintings in the manner of the French Impressionists.
At the outbreak of World War I, she returned to the United States and took up painting at various East coast beach resorts such as Coney Island and Gloucester. In her beach scenes of this period, colorful bathing suits, gowns and umbrellas punctuate a tranquil, pastel surface. Her expertise in the treatment of light and shadow is evident in her depictions of these settings at various times of day.
In 1922, she spent some months painting the thousands of immigrants kept in the detention hall at Ellis Island. The dreadful, crowded conditions inspired a group of paintings that were exhibited that year in the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. One was selected for the permanent collection of the Musée de Luxembourg. An exhibition at the Art Club of Chicago in 1941 featured a group of watercolor paintings inspired by the artist’s travels through Spain and North Africa. These works were intensely colored visions of such subjects as Algerian street scenes, mosques and Spanish fishermen.
Walter worked well into her nineties, continuing to paint portraits of women and children, beach scenes, gardens and marketplaces. Before her death in 1976, she had exhibited widely, and her works are included in major national and international private and public collections. Hammer Galleries had several exhibitions of her work during her lifetime, the last taking place in 1975 when the artist was one hundred years old.