Horatio Walker was born in 1858 to parents Thomas and Jeanne Maurice Walker. Thomas Walker emigrated in 1856 from Yorkshire, England, to Listowel, Ontario, with his wife of French and English heritage. Having some wealth, Thomas purchased land for lumber in Midwestern Ontario and Horatio was raised in relative comfort. His interest in art may originate from his father who crafted small figures as a hobby, and both his father and the local school teacher encouraged drawing as a pastime.
In 1870, on Walker’s 12th birthday, his father brought him to Quebec City, Quebec, for the first time. His father made occasional business trips to the city as part of his timber business. During this sojourn, they visited the Île d'Orléans, in search of pine timber. Walker made subsequent visits to Quebec City during the following years. His formal schooling ended at the Listowel Public School in 1872; he never went on to pursue formal academic training in art. At the age of 15, Walker moved to Toronto, Ontario to apprentice with the photographic firm Notman and Fraser. It was a fortunate opportunity, as several successful artists worked also there; Walker learned watercolour from Robert Gagnon, miniature portrait painting from John Fraser, and painting from Lucius O’Brien and Henri Perré.
Mature life and career
Walker was only at the firm for three years until he moved to the United States of America for uncertain reasons. Writing in 1928, Hector Charlesworth suggested that Walker was, “chucked down the stairs” and fired for quarrelling with a family relative. However, it is more likely that Walker travelled to Philadelphia for the American Centennial in 1876, an exhibition where Notman and Fraser won the international award, which privileged the firm with exclusive photographic rights for the celebrations. Ultimately, Walker may have decided to stay and pursue painting.
During the period of Walker’s life around 1878, he would have become familiar with the painters of the Barbizon school, which were at the time, exhibited in American museums and galleries. In 1880, Walker made an extended trip to Europe to learn more about the Barbizon methods, and its agrarian subject matter, that would come to define his painting for the rest of his life.
What happened with Walker during the two following years remains vague, but in 1878, he opened a studio in New York City. During the 1880s, Walker’s parents moved to Rochester, New York, and Walker participated in the founding of the Rochester Art Club. A further sign of Walker’s growing success was an invitation to join the American Watercolour membership in 1882. In 1883 he married Jeanette Pretty (d. 1938) of Toronto. They had two children, Alice (1884–1891) and Horatio Jr. (1886–1910). It was sometime during this period that Walker purchased a residence on Île d'Orléans in the village of Sainte-Pétronille. From now on until his retirement, Walker would spend his summers in Quebec and winters in his New York City studio.
Walker’s personal life was disastrous: his daughter died of diphtheria, his son of tuberculosis and his wife Jeanette, was committed to hospital permanently in 1914 due to paranoia. These tragedies do not seem influence his painting; Walker’s subject matter and style remained constant throughout this career without much variation.
Memberships and organizations
Walker was a member of several artists' organizations, including the American Watercolor Society (1882), the Royal Canadian Academy of Art (associate member in 1883, full member in 1913), the Society of American Artists (1887), the National Academy of Design (associate member in 1890, full member in 1891), and the British Institute of Watercolours (1901). He was a founding member of the Canadian Art Club, which elected him as its president in 1915. In 1928 he officially retired and moved to Sainte-Pétronille, Quebec. He died there on September 27, 1938.
Awards and prizes
Gold medals, American Art Gallery, New York (1887, 1889)
Evans Prize, American Watercolor Society (1888)
Bronze medal, World Exposition, Paris, France (1889)
Gold medal, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois (1893)
Gold medal, Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York (1901)
Gold medal, Charleston Exposition, Charleston, South Carolina (1902)
Two gold medals (for oil and watercolor), Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, Missouri (1904)
Medal of honor, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1906)
First prize, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts (1907)
Gold medal, Pan-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California (1915)
He was awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Toronto (1916) and Université Laval, Québec City (1938).