Walter was born in Albany NY in 1854, the son of the famous sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer. In his youth he was acquainted with the leading artists of the day such as Frederick E. Church, John Kensett and John McEntee, all of whom frequented the Palmer home.
At age 24, he began his formal study of art with the artist Frederick E. Church, the great Hudson Valley painter. In the early and mid-1870′s Walter traveled and studied extensively in Italy and France. He studied with Caroulus Duran in Paris. He studied the work of the impressionists as well as all the expatriate American artists in Europe. He was a friend of John Singer Sargent and went on at least one sketching trip with Sargent. He also spent time with John Henry Twatchman, William Merritt Chase, Frank Druveneck, and Robert Blum.
Upon his return to the states in the late 1870′s, he and Church rented a studio in New York City. They keep it from 1878 until 1881. Palmer first received major attention for his winter scenes in 1887 when he received the Second Halgarten Prize of the National Academy for his painting “January”. This award is for outstanding young (under 35) artists with potential. The artist’s use of blue shadow in the snow is considered one of the first uses of this technique. It wasn’t his only award.
He received the gold medal from the Philadelphia Art Club in 1894 and another gold medal from the Boston Art Club in 1895. More awards came from more prestigious Art Associations and his reputation continued to grow. His winter scenes became very popular but his scenes of Venice and interiors were also beautiful and desirable.
At the turn of the century Palmer was being compared in a favorable manner to Claude Monet and John Henry Twatchman. In 1915, Palmer, now 61 years old, spent the summer in Gloucester Massachusetts, a habit he would continue for many years thereafter.
His studio was rather quaint and situated on Rocky Neck in Gloucester Harbor. The “Boston Globe” described it in 1923 as one “which hangs down over the rocks and boasts an array of sky blue shutters .. in this studio by the sea.” He actually found the summer studio a boost to his art sales as many visitors who came to see stayed and actually bought. He complained that visitors interrupted him but it was good for business. Prices at that time were about $200 each without frames for good sizes pictures. One person bought three for a reduced price of $500.
He kept meticulous records of all his paintings and sales. He became active in the local art colony and the local art associations, basking in his celebrity status. People and writers would remark that it was strange to see him sitting on his Gloucester Bay dock in the summertime while painting a snow scene. All the while the picturesque harbor’s beauty was right in front of him. But he responded that he felt that it was no more inconsistent that many of his fellow artists who painted summer scenes in the dead of winter.
Walter L. Palmer died in his hometown Albany NY on April 16, 1932 at the age of 78. After his death his work fell out of favor and many museums de-accessioned his paintings in the years following W.W.II. Indeed, by the early 1960′s, representational art was out and often the frames were worth more than the paintings. People liked clean walls with no paintings — a sort of a delayed reaction to the covered wall style of the Victorian period.
In the last 20 years the trend has again reversed and his work of American Impressionist and realistic artists of the early 20th century have been rediscovered. Walter Launt Palmer is now recognized as the excellent artist he always was.