Albany, the artist Walter Launt Palmer, and the colors of snow

Albany in the Snow by Walter Launt Palmer

The painting above is "Albany In The Snow" by Walter Launt Palmer. And when we saw it today -- thanks to the Albany Muskrat for pointing it out -- the work just seemed to capture the current feeling of January.

The painting is from 1871. That's the Court of Appeals building, which of course, still stands on Eagle Street.

A few things about Palmer, who was an Albany native...

+ Walter Launt Palmer was born in 1854 in Albany, which means he was about 17 years old when he painted the work above.

+ Palmer was the son of Erastus Dow Palmer, the famous sculptor and Albany resident.

+ Erastus Dow Palmer's studio was on Columbia Street in Albany, right about where it meets Eagle Street, or just about a block from the scene in the painting. The building that housed EDP's studio still stands -- it was recently renovated for apartments.

+ As the son of a famous sculptor, Walter Launt Palmer grew up around other famous artists. Among them: the great landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church. Palmer would later study under Church in New York City.

+ Palmer also spent time studying and working in Europe, painting interiors and architecture in places such as Venice.

Silent Dawn by Walter Launt Palmer The Met
"Silent Dawn" by Walter Launt Palmer, which is in the collection of The Met.

+ But it was Palmer's landscapes -- specifically snow scenes -- that attracted fame. As his 1932 obit in the New York Times noted: "Mr. Palmer's paintings of winter were highly regarded by critics because of his success in depicting the tints of snow fields. His paintings hang in many notable collections. One of them was placed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1923, a compliment seldom paid living artists."

Road To Olana by Walter Launt Palmer AIHA

+ That painting just above is Palmer's "The Road to Olana" (note the Church connection), which is in the collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art. From Albany Institute of History & Art: 200 Years of Collecting:

Road to Olana offers a textbook example of Palmer's ability to represent a snow scene effectively. The artist chose what at first appears to be a straightforward arrangement of light (the snow) and dark (the trees). The challenge, however, was not simply light versus dark but how to represent the shading in areas of white, which the eye perceives as having very little color at all. Palmer captures the effect of the subtle contrast in the "colors" of snow using slightly darker and greener whites to convey the sense of shadows raking across the composition. The red pine trees and a beech seedling at the right of the road are represented with the only the necessary detail, rather than the fussiness of too-exacting a description. In effect, Palmer has succeeded in striking the balance between too many and too few particulars, creating a composition that invites the viewer to admire the whole rather than focus on every leaf or patch of sunlight.

+ Palmer would eventually become known as the "painter of the American winter."

+ One of Palmer's snow scenes -- "Winter Shadows" -- sold at auction in Connecticut in 2014 for $132,000.

+ The Albany Institute has one of the largest public collections of Walter Launt Palmer's work. And many of the works are available for viewing in the museum's online collection.

Earlier: Eight facts about the life of Edmonia Lewis


I specialize in Zeitgeist.

Beautiful! Thanks for the art & history lesson.

These are beautiful paintings. Thanks!

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