William Allen Wall Information and Inventory

William Allen Wall

(1801 - 1885)

William Allen Wall


I was very excited when I purchased this early watercolor in 1974 from the Old Print Shop—not because of the artist’s name, but because he was the earliest-born artist I had in my collection. Virtually nothing was known about this New Bedford, Massachusetts, native at the time, and the purchase preceded the 1978 retrospective on him organized by the Old Dartmouth Historical Society. It was not until a visit to see the William Bradford exhibition in New Bedford some twenty-five years later that I was aware of a thoroughly enjoyable catalogue on Wall, which reveals a classic tale of an early artist’s long struggle for survival, yet total dedication to his place of birth: tirelessly recording its people (through portraiture), its history (through historical and narrative paintings), and its topography (through landscapes). Wall did receive some training, with Thomas Sully in Philadelphia, and exposure to England and the Continent through traveling with friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. But for the vast majority of his life, he confined himself to New Bedford, a whaling center during the 19th century, and thought to be per capita the richest town in the United States. Like many artists, Wall began with portraiture to survive, but grew tired of it, considering it “mindless,” and moved to historical or narrative painting in the mid-1850s, still encountering great difficulty finding an audience. It wasn’t until about 1860 that he focused on landscape painting and perfected watercolor as well as oils. His landscapes seem to reflect a freedom and sense of acceptance that his career would be a continuous struggle to support his family. Part of the problem was the newness of the country, a land that writers such as Cooper and Hawthorne said had “neither a legendary past nor a poetic present.”1 In the Wall catalogue, the foreward notes, “His career extended over a longer portion of the 19th century than that of most any other American artist. It embraced a variety of subjects that few of them could match. New Bedford artists of greater gifts left to follow different paths: Bierstadt to the West, Bradford to the Arctic, Albert Pinkham Ryder to the inner self. William Allen Wall was, above all, an artist of New Bedford.”

William Allen Wall Gallery

No paintings by this author