Dame Ethel Walker, DBE (9 June 1861 - 2 March 1951) was a British painter of portraits, flower-pieces, sea-pieces and decorative compositions. Her work shows the influence of Impressionism, Puvis de Chavannes, Gauguin and Asian art.
Walker was born on 9 June 1861 in Edinburgh, Scotland, the younger child of Arthur Walker (a Yorkshireman) and his second wife, Isabella (née Robertson). Her father was from a family of iron founders. Her secondary education was at Brondesbury in London, where she was taught drawing by Hector Caffierti.
Following secondary school, Walker attended the Ridley School of Art. In 1880 she met fellow artist Clara Christian, and the two women began living, working and studying together. It was during this stage that she developed her strong interest in art (). She attended Putney School of Art, and visited Madrid, where she made copies of Velázquez. She then attended the Westminster School of Art in London, where a then popular artist, Frederick Brown, was a teacher. Around 1893 she followed Brown to the Slade School of Art for further study (). She would return to the Slade School in 1912 and 1916 to study fresco and tempera painting; and again in 1921 to study sculpture with James Havard Thomas.
Professional art career
Walker produced a large body of works from different genres, to include flowers, seascapes, landscapes, and mythical subjects. Walker's influences included in Greek and Renaissance art, as well as Chinese painting and Taoist philosophy. She also took interest in the female form.
Walker is best known for her portraits of the female form, paying particular attention to the detail of the sitters/models expression and individual temperaments. Her obvious, tactical brush strokes obscure unnecessary details, thereby allowing her to emphasize the aspects of the mood of the moment ().
In her painting, the The Mauve Dress (circa 1930), for example, the sitter's long heavy dress gives the appearance of weighing her down. The woman sitter rests her elbow on a piece of furniture while resting her face in her hand. The dress seems to sap the life of the sitter, who has a dreamy expression on her face.
Walker was a supporter of the natural female form, often publicly rebuking other women for wearing makeup and heavy clothing that hid their form. Her models were never allowed to wear makeup, lipstick, or nail polish during sittings (). She painted a series of work that reflected mythological themes, and several works depicting nude female models.
In one piece, titled Invocation, Walker used 25 female models, all either scantly clad or nude, kneeling around 3 female models who are wearing sheer cloth (). Birds are depicted fluttering overhead in the painting. It is considered her most detailed piece ().
Walker's works throughout her career seemed to capture the human spirit while celebrating the beauty of the female body. Although no longer considered a major artist in history, the art produced by Walker, who died in London, did have a positive and thought-provoking impact on art as a whole.
- T. W. Earp (et al.), Ethel Walker, Frances Hodgkins, and Gwen John: A Memorial Exhibition ( London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1952)
- B. L. Pearce, Dame Ethel Walker: An Essay in Reassessment (Exeter, England: Stride Publications, 1997)