Palmer was born in Albany, New York in 1854, the son of the famous sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer, and grew up surrounded by his father’s colleagues in the art world. He was one of the few artists ever afforded the opportunity to study with the eminent master of landscape painting, Frederic Edwin Church, and gained the reputation of being his star pupil. In later years, he even shared a studio with Church in New York City’s 10th Street studio.
The preeminent painter of American winter, Walter Launt Palmer earned nearly every conceivable award in American art for his mastery of this technically demanding subject. Works were painted from memory in Palmer’s studio, and they recalled the feel of a place and time rather than the exact topography and weather conditions the artist encountered. In one of Palmer’s often quoted statements, he succinctly described his technique: “Paint from memory if you can, from nature if you must…”
Palmer continually sought out—and invented—new cold weather scenes to paint, producing a continuously varied body of work with snow as its common denominator. He was proficient in watercolor as well as in oil, and captured his subjects in both media. In addition to his celebrated snow scenes, Palmer also produced elaborate interior views and acclaimed works of Venice. He traveled abroad extensively, studying and painting in Italy and in France. It was during these trips that his work began to show the influence of the Impressionists. He began to focus on color and the way that light reflected off of water, and snow. He also was one of the first artists to make a sketching tour of China and Japan.
Unlike other painters who slowed toward the end of their careers, Palmer continued to exhibit his work regularly until the very end of his life. He was eulogized as “one of the last members of that group of nineteenth century artists whose work is in no small measure responsible for the evolution of the American landscape school of painting.”
His work can be found in private collections and institutions across the nation such as the National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Albany Institute of History, Albany, NY; Society of American Artists, New York, NY; Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Buffalo, NY; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY; and the Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH.