Walter Beck (1864-1954)

Walter Beck was born on March 11, 1864 in Dayton, Ohio, and was given the name Otto Walter Beck. His parents were immigrants from Germany, and his father worked as a landscape gardener in a National Soldier Home. Young Walter’s interest in art was sparked in this garden, where he attempted to depict the experiences of Civil War veterans through drawings. He submitted one of these drawings to a magazine, where it was published. This marked the beginning of Beck’s love affair with all forms of art. When he was 22, Walter was discovered by Mrs. J.B. Thresher, a member of the local Art Society. Through this connection, he was given a seat at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Germany. Walter studied in Europe from 1886 to 1892, during which time he studied the old masters. He visited Venice and Florence, Italy, Germany, France, England, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Walter returned to Ohio in 1892 but was unable to find work as an artist. He spent time teaching and submitted art to magazines, but this was unsuccessful. In hopes of finding more stable work, Walter moved to Cincinnati to teach at the Cincinnati Art Institute. In 1897, he won a contest to create murals for City Hall. Two years prior, Walter had seen an exhibit of Japanese Art, which proved to be a life changing experience, as he found the depictions of the ladies in kimonos to be deeply moving. Walter also married Caroline Peabody Perkins in 1897, and moved to New York to teach at the Pratt Institute. By 1912, Beck was exhibiting solo at the Pratt and the National Arts Club. He was awarded a commission to paint 80 portraits of Civil War veterans, which were later displayed by the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. In 1918, Walter began to experiment with different materials in his basement studio and discovered a new technique called “starch-film.” In his 1942 book, “Painting with Starch: A Tempera Method,” Beck explains that he “happened to spread some starch on a piece of wet blotting paper and followed this with a stroke of the brush charged with a tempera paint.” “The result,” he said, “made me realize that I had discovered a method full of possibilities.” “To paint on wet starch is to eliminate friction and there is nothing to oppose the artist’s flow of ideas or emotions… He does not think in dimensions or restrictions but is swayed by rhythms.” Beck’s work is represented in the following art museums: Brooklyn Museum, National Gallery of Art, Newark Art Museum, and the Cincinnati Art Museum. His extraordinary and unique starch paintings rarely appear on the art market.

Water Lilies, 1923

by Walter Beck (1864-1954)

Medium DetailTempera and starch on paper
Dimensions14 x 18 1/2 inches; Framed: 24 x 28 1/2 inches
Signed LocationInitialed and dated, lower right
Date Created1923

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