Fred R. Kline Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

 

DISCOVERY

 

WILLIAM AIKEN WALKER, 1839-1921

San Antonio Flower Girl, 1876

 

15 x 12 inches  

Oil on canvas

Signed: conjoined initial remnant “–AW” on verso stretcher (Walker often signed conjoined initials as “WAW”). 

 

Authentication

Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Walker specialist: Charleston Renaissance Gallery, Spartanburg, SC

 

Provenance

Private Collection, San Antonio, Texas (as unknown artist), from late 19th c. to 1960’s

Raymond White Collection, San Antonio (as unknown artist), 1960s until 1983

To Fred R. Kline Gallery, San Antonio, 1983 (here first researched and attributed to William Aiken Walker by Fred R. Kline)

Collection of Fred and Jann Kline, Santa Fe

Torch Energy Collection, Houston

 

Exhibited

Fred R. Kline Gallery, Santa Fe, NM. “19th Century Texas Paintings”.   Summer 2000 (Walker # 3, exhibition only)

 

Published

"San Antonio Flower Girl, 1876: A Rare Painting from William Aiken Walker's Texas Period" : www.klinegallery.com from 1998

* * *

 

"San Antonio Flower Girl, 1876:

A Rare Painting from William Aiken Walker's Texas Period"

copyright 1998, 2010 Fred R. Kline

(Note: Comparative paintings mentioned are illustrated in Seibels, The Sunny South)

 

William Aiken Walker lived and painted in Texas for several years during the 1870s.  He arrived in Galveston in 1874 and spent most of his time there.  In 1876, he traveled to San Antonio where he lived for perhaps six months before leaving Texas altogether. Walker later became widely known for his genre paintings of African American cotton field workers in the Deep South.

From Walker’s two year residence in Texas, less than ten paintings have been located, most of them from Galveston, and less than five have been published.  With San Antonio Flower Girl--only the second San Antonio painting to be located--a significant work has been added to Walker's body of work from his Texas-period.

San Antonio Flower Girl portrays an alluring young street girl with floral wares who is sitting by a wall braiding her hair.  Her pose suggests that she was modeled after a classic 16th century Italian Renaissance Madonna, which Walker certainly would have known from widely distributed prints of old master paintings.  The architectural feature, a limestone wall, suggests period buildings in San Antonio, perhaps the Alamo, St. Mary’s College, or one of the missions.  The girl’s white skin exposed on her shoulders and arms and her brown sunburned face and feet suggest that she is possibly of mixed Mexican-Anglo parentage, a common assimilation of San Antonio’s two dominant cultures.  The carefully detailed Mexican skirt, serape, blanket, and ceramic water pot all relate to the costume and crafts of San Antonio during this strongly Mexican-influenced 1870s period of the city’s history, a period which was also the heyday of the “Old West”. 

Walker’s other San Antonio painting, San Jose Mission (1876; Witte Museum, San Antonio), a major work, is an architecturally focused picture with the small figures of a Mexican man and woman in the foreground.  The two people are shown with particular attention to costume details.  Those details compare with Walker’s closely observed rendering of the Mexican girl’s costume in Flower Girl.   Clearly, Walker’s two known San Antonio paintings depict similarly comparative subjects and illustrate a consistent thematic interest in describing San Antonio's native Mexican people and the Spanish Colonial architecture of the city.

Walker began painting the genre of children street vendors with Newsboy Selling the Baltimore Sun (1871; High Museum of Art, Atlanta), a work which offers the closest stylistic comparison to San Antonio Flower Girl.  Comparison of the two paintings illustrate numerous facial details that are close to exactly similar:  modeling of the wide eyes; a similar mouth with an unusual detail of teeth showing through the lips; similar rosy cheeks and the noses of the children.  Additionally, both paintings exhibit: careful flat application of paint; detailed treatment of clothing and objects; straight-forward anatomical modeling of arms and legs which are carefully and stiffly posed; carefully rendered single architectural detail; exact juxtaposition of sidewalk to wall to integrated figure.  There can be little doubt that the Baltimore newsboy and the San Antonio flower girl were painted by the same artist.

Walker continued with the subject of children street vendors into the 1880s but in a less self-conscious, more relaxed style--which became his settled technique for genre--published examples include Banana Peddler of Greenville, Mississippi (ca.1883; private collection) and Newsboy/Post No Bills (1883; The Warner Collection of Gulf States Paper Corporation). 

Mention should also be made of another related genre painting, Gathering Herbs (1871, Private Collection).  Gathering Herbs depicts a black woman in a garden with a basket on her head, holding a basket of flowering herbs, and wearing a distinctive apron.  In its carefully studied details of character description, it can be seen as stylistically comparative to Flower Girl.

Flower Girl  bears comparison to the San Antonio genre paintings (including street vendors) of Theodore Gentilz (1819-1906), pioneer San Antonio artist and well known art teacher who was active in the city from 1844 to 1894.  Walker was undoubtedly aware of Gentilz’s commonly exhibited works in the few San Antonio art shops that he would have visited.   It is plausible that Gentilz’s paintings influenced Walker in both of his San Antonio paintings and that influence may have included instruction given to Walker—a suggestion based on the style and subject matter of Gentilz’s genre and architectural paintings and the comparative details found in Walker’s two San Antonio paintings. 

William Aiken Walker’s San Antonio Flower Girl offers an historically important and rare example of 19th century Texas genre-painting, adding significantly to Texas art history and to Walker’s body of work from his brief Texas period.

 

Fred R. Kline was Consultant in Historic Texas Paintings, Texas State Capitol, Austin,1985-87.

 
 
Selected Bibliography

Kline Art Research Associates, Artists of Texas Archives, Santa Fe, NM

Cybthia Seibels. The Sunny South, The Life and Art of William Aiken Walker. Spartanburg, SC, 1995

Cecilia Steinfeldt.  Art for History’s Sake, The Texas Collection of the Witte Museum. Austin, 1993.

Dorothy Steinbomer Kendall. Gentilz: Artist of the Old Southwest ~ Drawings and Paintings by Theodore Gentilz. Austin, 1974.

Pauline A. Pinckney. Painting in Texas, The Nineteenth Century. Austin, 1967

 

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Torch Energy Collection, Houston


 

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