The Brittany Family by Martha Walter
The Brittany Family by Martha Walter The Brittany Family by Martha Walter The Brittany Family by Martha Walter The Brittany Family by Martha Walter
The Brittany Family by Martha Walter

The Brittany Family by Martha Walter

  • This oil on canvas exemplifies the poignant work of American Impressionist Martha Walter
  • It represents Walter's career-long obsession with experiencing new and diverse cultures
  • Capturing a family in Brittany, it evokes the tranquil way of life in the French region
  • Highly expressive, it is one of the artist’s most important early works
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Item No. 30-9120
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Martha Walter
1875 – 1976 | American

The Brittany Family

Signed "Martha Walter" (lower left)
Oil on canvas

Martha Walter is celebrated as one of the great female artists of American art history, and her distinctive impressionist style permeates throughout her oeuvre. This remarkable and highly expressive oil on canvas is one of the artist’s most important early works. Entitled The Brittany Family, the work represents Walter's career-long obsession with experiencing new and diverse cultures, capturing them on canvas with her distinctive brushwork.

This piece comes from her earliest travels, when she moved from Italy through Brittany to Holland. The Brittany region certainly would have held a certain fascination for the artist, particularly in contrast to the modern urban culture in Paris and New York. The way of life in Brittany was far more tranquil and unspoiled, based in traditions that were quite distinctive to the region. The Brittany Family, with its familial lack of pretension, seems to epitomize the straightforward, timeless culture of the area. It captures a mother in her traditional Breton garb, tending to her two young children during the evening meal. It is clear that Walter was not only fascinated by the simplicity of the region, but also the more universal theme of the tender relationship between mother and child. In this way, she evokes the celebrated images of her fellow American Impressionist Mary Cassatt. Walter's palette, however, is far more evocative than Cassatt's, wrought in a dark and somber palette that is markedly different from her later work.

Born in Philadelphia in 1875, Walter quickly established her place as one of the foremost American Impressionist painters of her lifetime. She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts under the tutelage of American painter William Merritt Chase, who became one of her greatest supporters. Chase encouraged her to enter a number of art competitions early in her career, and she subsequently won the Tappan prize in 1902, as well as a Cresson traveling scholarship in 1908. She was thus able to travel extensively throughout France, Holland, Italy and Spain, eventually enrolling at both the Academie Julian and the Academie Grand Chaumiere in Paris for brief periods. Rebelling at their traditional approach and classical subjects, Walter left the formal academies and established her own studio in Paris with a small group of female American artists. It was during this period that Walter developed her infatuation for plein air painting, which would profoundly influence the course of her career.

Walter returned to America at the beginning of World War I, and her previously light and airy paintings took on a more vivid and spontaneous feel. She quickly became known for her charming beach scenes of Cape Ann, Atlantic City and Coney Island, and her paintings from this period boast a colorful palette, remarkable atmosphere and masterful use of light and shadow. Gaining increasing popularity for her distinct style, Walter won prizes from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the National Association of Women Artists, and soon became a teacher at Chase's New York School of Art.

Walter’s subjects also diversified during this period. While still creating her popular beach scenes, she also began work on her celebrated Social Realist works, which focused primarily on the immigrant experience, but also included rural scenes. In the 1930s, Walter traveled to North Africa, where she painted her colorful impressions of Tunisian and Algerian marketplaces and café scenes. The subjects round out the dynamic and diverse oeuvre from this internationally celebrated female artist, whose works remain highly sought after.

Circa 1908-10

Canvas: 32 1/4" high x 40 1/4" wide
Frame: 43 1/2" high x 51 5/8" wide

Exhibited:
Carnegie Institute, 1911
Impressionist Jewels: The Paintings of Martha Walter, Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, September - November 2002

References:
Impressionist Jewels: The Paintings of Martha Walter, Philadelphia, 2002, by W.H. Gerdts, p. 73, no. 57 (illustrated)
specifications
Artist: Walter, Martha
Period: 1816-1918
Origin:America
Subject:Children
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