Appraisal Event Finds: A William Aiken Walker Painting
This William Aiken Walker painting was the star of our appraisal day event at the Malta Community Center on Saturday, May 9th. The Antiques Roadshow-style event had a great turnout with a wonderful mix of family treasures and hidden gems. Attendees brought a varied group of items for a two hour speaking event that examined and evaluated each piece, its history, significance, and potential value.
William Aiken Walker (1839-1921) was a self taught painter born in Charleston, South Carolina. During the Civil War, he enlisted in the Confederate Army but was soon wounded and mustered out. While the war raged on, Walker worked for the army creating sketches of Charleston’s defenses, painting in his spare time. After the war, he became a prolific itinerant artist, traveling across the South selling his paintings in popular tourist towns like New Orleans.
Walker primarily created two types of paintings: larger and finer oil paintings on canvas, and a significant quantity of postcard-sized scenes on board which were primarily marketed to tourists as souvenirs.The postcard-size paintings were often simple, quick oil sketches and were created in large quantities; it’s not uncommon to find these small paintings. His larger paintings are rather more scarce. At our event on Saturday, a very nice couple brought in this William Aiken Walker painting, a beautifully executed scene with richly layered detail and a great example of Walker’s finer, larger paintings.The oil painting on canvas depicts five African American figures in and around a wagon pulled by four donkeys with an autumn cornfield in the background.
This painting is a striking example of Walker’s body of work. During the 1880s-1890s, Walker primarily painted scenes of daily life during the Reconstruction era, focusing largely on black sharecroppers. These rural scenes show men and women at work in the fields, traveling along dusty roads, taking a noontime break, or engaged in tasks about the home and farm. William Aiken Walker’s paintings reflected a sympathetic, honest vision of what he saw during his travels around the American South.
The last few years have seen a renewal of interest in William Aiken Walker paintings. These realistic, keenly observed paintings are a valuable eye-witness account to specific time and place in American history. It was such an exciting moment to see one of Walker’s paintings at the appraisal event. As you can see from the photo, the painting has been severely damaged and we are helping restore it for the owners.