Art of the Week

Henry Walton (fl.1836-1850)
Hobart Free College, Geneva, N.Y., 1836-37
Lithograph, 18 x 28 cm.

Henry Walton worked for the lithography firm of Stone & Clark in Ithaca, New York beginning in 1936. He is known primarily for his lithographs of upstate New York towns made between 1836 and 1850. Walton was also a portrait and miniature painter most often working in watercolor. In 1849 he joined the Gold Rush to California. There is some discrepancy on Walton’s birth and death dates. Falk’s “Who Was Who in American Art” has the dates 1804-1865 though it does note many different possible dates and sources. According to Falk, Walton left California and settled in Michigan in 1857. Hughes’ “Artist’s in California” has the dates 1821-1873 and states that Walton resided in San Francisco until his death.

Perhaps it is not generally Known to the citizens of Ithaca and its vicinity, that we have residing in our village an artist, who, though unpretending, is a proficient in the use of the pencil.”  So begins an editorial published May 23, 1838, in the Ithaca Journal, as Henry Walton embarks on his fifteen-year stay in the Finger Lakes region. Walton and his work remained virtually unknown until November 1937, when his portrait of J. P. Jenks was published on the cover of the Magazine of Antiques. The cover image and its accompanying editorial note brought the little-known artist out of obscurity and into the public eye briefly. Twenty years later, five of Henry Walton’s works were included in the exhibition, Rediscovered Painters of Upstate New York, which traveled through New York state from June 1958 to February 1959. Lithographs of Saratoga Springs, New York, published circa 1825-1830 are some of Walton’s earliest known town scenes. The certainty that Walton was in Saratoga Springs in the late 1820’s eventually lead researchers to discover that he was the son of judge Henry Walton (1768-1844) who had significant land holdings in that same area.

Walton arrived in Ithaca as early as 1835 and stayed in
the area until heading west to California for the gold rush in 1851. Throughout his time in the Finger Lakes, Walton was steady in his execution of lithographs of town views in this region. Leigh Rehner describes “two themes prevalent in Walton’s town Views: celebration of the topographical landscape and technical progress.” She notes Walton’s inclusion of civilization and progress in his town views, specifically his documentation and depiction of buildings in the towns he viewed. Others have noted Walton’s linear style, apparent skill in architectural draftsmanship, and overall technique. Rehner wonders if Walton did not use a ruler to achieve the linear qualities of his town views. Force enthuses about not only Walton’s technique, but also his use of color.

Hobart Free College, the hand-colored lithograph, looks south on Geneva’s South Main Street and includes a view of Seneca Lake around 1851. on the left is Durfee House; the buildings on the right-hand side of the street are the old chapel, “Polyonomous,” and Geneva Hall. Beyond Geneva Hall is the Middle Building, used as the Medical School and later the college library. On the far side of the Middle Building is Trinity Hall.

The existence of this work may have been unknown to scholars as it was not noted or included in either of the exhibits curated by Leigh Rehner in Ithaca (1968-1969 and 1988-1989), the catalogues of which are regarded as some of the most authoritative documentation on what is known of Henry Walton. Researchers have hypothesized that one reason for Walton’s obscurity for so long is that much of his work was purchased by locals and remained in the hands of private collectors and descendants of the original portrait sitters.

Sara Greenleaf, Associate Librarian for Collection Services
Moments in Time: Lithographs from the HWS Art Collection, 2009

Agnes Halsey Jones, Rediscovered Painters of Upstate New York, 1700-1875 (Utica, NY, 1958)
Leigh Rehner, “Henry Walton, American artist,” Antiques 97, no. 3 (March 1970)
Leigh Rehner, “Henry Walton,” in Henry Walton, 19th Century American Artist. (Ithaca, NY: Ithaca College Museum of Art, 1968)


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