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2024 Summer Fine Art & Antiques (Day 1)

Sat, Jul 6, 2024 09:00AM EDT
Lot 164

William Aiken Walker W/C, Black Musicians, 1864

Estimate: $2,400 - $2,800

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William Aiken Walker (American/South Carolina, 1838-1921) Civil War-era watercolor on paper painting, dated 1864, depicting four African American musicians (three men and one woman) seated on chairs and playing various instruments including tambourines, triangle, spoons, and guitar. Dated and Signed "WAW fecit 1864" in pencil lower left corner, with inscription, possibly a title, lower margin: "Select Private Entertainment." 6 1/2" W x 4 1/8" H. Note: this painting, which is dated early in Walker's artistic career, during his service in the Confederate Army, was found in the same envelope with a pencil note reading, "This is my first & only attempt in water colours - I should have had the pleasure of sending you a better piece but unfortunately my teacher Col. Ed White removed to NY and I am left to struggle on in a rudderless patience trying way / with a deep sigh I say Excelsior." The painting and note were discovered in a re-used envelope originally addressed to E. Milby Burton of the Charleston Museum from John D. Lane of Clemson, SC (with sender and addressee names scratched out), inscribed in pencil, "Colored Sketch - by W.A. Walker" with the name "Sally _ Burton" written above. Note: Sally Pinckney Burton was the wife of E. Milby Burton (1898-1977), historian and director of the Charleston Museum.

Biography and Context: The son of a prominent cotton agent, Charleston-born William Aiken Walker exhibited his first painting at the South Carolina Institute Fair at the age of 12. He went to Europe to study art in 1860 but returned to America at the outbreak of the Civil War, in which he served as a Confederate private and, following an injury, as a cartographer (in 1864, he was stationed in Charleston, NC and Richmond). While in Richmond, Walker was close with other artists stationed there at the same time, including Adalbert John Volck, William Ludlow Sheppard, and Lt. John R. Key (ref. Trovaioli and Toledano, p. 18). After the war, Walker spent time in Baltimore, MD; Arden, NC; Georgia, Louisiana, and Cuba. In 1870 the Baltimore Sun reported that he had taken a study trip to Europe, but he soon returned to the South. Walker became primarily known for his prolific Southern scenes, mostly depicting rural plantations and the daily life of African Americans. Contrary to the note found with it (which may or may not refer to it), this painting, dated 1864, was not Walker's only or last painting in watercolor, although he became far better known for his oils. In fact, he is known to have painted a series of other small watercolors on cardstock including "crude primitive studies of soldiers and Negroes" (ref. Trovaioli and Toledano, p. 18) during his army service in 1864. The reference in this note to a teacher, "Col. Ed White," is intriguing and might point to a heretofore unknown connection with the renowned American historical genre painter Edwin White who, like Walker, studied abroad but returned to the U.S. on the eve of the Civil War. White then set up a studio at New York University in 1860. In 1869, White returned to Europe where he remained until 1875. He died in New York in 1877. White reached the height of his fame with his painting "Major Anderson Raising the Flag on the Morning of His Taking Possession of Fort Sumter (SC), Dec. 27, 1860," completed in 1862. Biographical Sources cited: Augustus P. Trovaioli and Roulhac B. Toedano, WILLIAM AIKEN WALKER: SOUTHERN GENRE PAINTER; The Johnson Collection; the Archives of Maryland Biographical Series. 

PROVENANCE: By descent in the historic Pinckney family of South Carolina. For a discussion of Walker's close relationship with the family, see WILLIAM AIKEN WALKER: SOUTHERN GENRE PAINTER, by Trovaioli and Toledano, Preface XV and p. 22. 


Overall very good condition with light toning and smudges to pencil writing. Minor losses en verso to four corners from previous adhesive.

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By descent in the historic Pinckney family of South Carolina. For a discussion of Walker's close relationship with the family, see WILLIAM AIKEN WALKER: SOUTHERN GENRE PAINTER, by Trovaioli and Toledano, Preface XV and p. 22.