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Frederick Andrews Walpole Collection

Frederick Andrews Walpole Collection

The Frederick Andrews Walpole Collection contains 801 mostly pencil and ink drawings and watercolors. Images from this collection have been added to the Catalogue of the Botanical Art Collection at the Hunt Institute database. For quick access to the images in this collection, see the Art Collections page, which features search results for each of the Art Department collections for which images have been added to the database. Otherwise, to locate these images in the database, search on the artist’s last name. The Walpole images are in the public domain and can be downloaded from the database. When using these images, please include the following credit statement: Frederick Andrews Walpole Collection, courtesy of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa., on indefinite loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

Frederick Andrews Walpole (1861–1904). HI Archives portrait no. 1.

The following biographical sketch was written by John Brindle, curator of art at the Institute from 1961 to 1981, for the 1973 Walpole exhibition catalogue.

Frederick Andrews Walpole’s background and the course of his short career are incompletely documented. He was born in Port Douglas, Essex County, New York, January 17, 1861. In 1871, his family moved to Chicago where Frederick became a pupil of an artist named Sloan, possibly Junius R. Sloan, a landscape and portrait artist then working in that city. In 1882, the 21 year old Walpole left Chicago, making his way by rail and on foot to Southern Oregon to seek out a homestead site. One of his few extant journals covers this period. He arrived at Redding, California, in the Sacramento Valley on March 22. Learning that the stage fare to Jacksonville, his destination, would be $36.00, he shipped his baggage ahead and set out to cover the last 177 miles of his journey on foot. After exploring the region, he took up a land claim near the present town of Trail in the Crater Lake region, which includes Walpole Creek, named after him. His account book lists all his purchases and living expenses and his occasional receipts from commissioned sketches of towns and settlements.

There are no extant journals for the years 1884 to 1899, but we know that Walpole’s family came to Oregon, settling in Portland where, in 1886, Frederick took a job as illustrator for The Lewis and Dryden Printing Company. In 1891 or 1892, Walpole met an English girl who was visiting a brother in Oregon, and married her in England in 1893. An only son, Sidney, was born in 1894. In 1898, Walpole’s wife died of typhoid fever in Washington, D.C. From the period around 1880, a few small landscapes in oil survive.

In 1896, Walpole’s work came to the attention of Frederick V. Coville, a Department of Agriculture botanist and Curator of the National Herbarium, who was in Oregon researching plants used by the Klamath Indians. Coville persuaded Walpole to apply for the position of Artist for the Division of Botany of the Agriculture Department, and he was appointed on September 19th. The bare facts are tantalizingly incomplete. We do not know that Walpole had prior botanical training, or even that he had drawn plant subjects. In any case, his later journals show him on field drawing trips botanizing, collecting specimens, and confidently identifying plants by their scientific Latin names. An obituary notice mentions that John Ruskin was a favorite author of Walpole’s. The reverence for nature which Ruskin had inspired in American artists of the 1850s and 1860s could well have predisposed Walpole to the study of plant life.

Walpole’s career as a plant illustrator was divided between work in Washington at the Agriculture Department (and after November of 1902 at the National Museum) and on field trips to the Northwest. The journals for the period 1900–1903 cover his activities in Washington and his journeys across the continent, as well as his two trips to Alaska (1900 and 1901). Besides copious data on railroad timetables and shipping schedules, they give descriptions of terrain, regular weather reports, accounts of his movements and work, and scrupulous notations of income and expenditures, recording purchases of newspapers and magazines, of toothpicks (10 cents), and a tip to a child of 1 cent. Also recorded is a surprisingly lively social life: numerous visits to family and friends, celebrations of birthdays and holidays, and attendance at events both cultural and otherwise: science lectures (especially geographical), music recitals, exhibitions at Washington’s Corcoran Gallery (frequent), the Congress and the Library of Congress, church (Unitarian, if available, but Greek Orthodox in Alaska). A span of the journals from November 1902 to January 1903 lists the following activities: two visits to Zoological Park; showing his own pictures (along with L. A. Juertes, the famous bird artist, and C. R. Knight, the animal artist) at an American Ornithological Union meeting; lecture by Lieutenant Peary on his arctic work; Jane Addams’ lecture at Congregational Church; recital by Mme. Schumann-Heinck; Corcoran Gallery exhibition; visit to Library of Congress; lecture on wingless birds; another on protective coloring; another on Martinique; reading Owen Wister’s The Virginian; meeting of the Folk Lore society; reception of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; music recital at Unitarian Church; Hagenbeck’s Trained Animal Show; ping pong party across the street. Considering that he was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Geographic Society, and the Biological Society of Washington, we might say that Frederick Walpole was a man firmly devoted to the American virtue of participation and self-improvement.

The journal passages covering the Alaska trips presents a different picture: Walpole working at his profession, reacting to awesome views of glaciers and mountains, observing natives and fellow travellers. These passages also afford insights into the man’s character.

Taking ship at Seattle, he sailed along the coast of Alaska as far as the Seward Peninsula, making forays inland. The journal reports the names of plants collected and drawn; lists Aleut, Tlinglit and Russian names for plants; reports on weather, topography, vegetation, and people. He finds much to deplore: an afternoon fishing party that hauled in, by seine, over 4,000 salmon within two hours’ time—"Stupid cold blood white man’s fishing" which threatens extermination of the Chinook; the greed of Yankee operators of the Alaska Commercial Company, who exploit the natives by selling them hunting equipment at high prices, paying low prices for hides, and recovering most of what they had paid at company stores. There are other sidelights. In the small settlement at Kenia (population around 100, mixed Russians and Indians), the only school is conducted by Russian priests ignorant of the English they are expected to teach; they pretend to do so. These priests were, however, generally well regarded, excepting one who had lost favor when he mortgaged the local church for $250 and lost the money at the poker table.

Walpole found Alaska to his liking, and nothing more so than the bidarka, a graceful, hide-covered canoe used by the Aleuts. A long passage of the journal tells of an excursion near Kodiak with Walpole stiffly balanced between two Aleut friends. They knew no English, but Walpole comments: "You can have a jolly good time without talking if only you have congenial companions. I could talk to the Yankees but we had nothing to talk about. With the Aleuts I had something in common … I think they had something of a feeling of kinship with me as with a fellow barbarian." In a later letter to his brother, Walpole writes: "I have been out west to Kodiak and got the bidarka fever. If I wasn’t too old I think I would turn Aleut. It’s very silly to live in the way most white people do!" From the same letter: "Skagway is a town of shacks and shanties in a narrow valley with high rocky mountains on either side. Its inhabitants have cut down trees that used to cover the valley and are now burning those on the mountain so as to make the place as desolate as possible."

Pinus contorta, ink drawing by Frederick Andrews Walpole. HI Art accession no. 4282.

Frederick Walpole died, from typhoid fever contracted while working in California, May 11, 1904. While his short career had gained him no wide recognition, the character and sincerity of the man himself had earned the respect and esteem of his friends and colleagues. In Walpole’s honor, his name has been given to a willow he had discovered on the tundra of Seward Peninsula in Alaska.

As a botanical artist, Walpole worked in water color, ink, and pencil. Coville described his unusual technique of ink drawing. Using the finest sable brush from which all but a few of the bristles had been cut away, and holding it almost parallel to the surface of the paper, Walpole drew lines of extraordinary delicacy. These drawings had much the appearance of fine line engraving but were impossible to adequately reproduce at that time, since the lines were slightly brown in color. The pencil drawings are notable for their realization of form by carefully controlled modulations of tone. They are strong enough to hold their own even when displayed next to ink drawings and would probably have pleased John Ruskin himself. Indeed all of Walpole’s work may be considered a faithful embodiment of a Ruskin attitude toward natural history art. Avoiding any degree of contrived artificiality, Walpole produced honest portraits of plants which, to a remarkable degree, succeed in capturing on paper the fragile grace and living essence of the plants themselves.

We may regret that Frederick Walpole’s career was cut so short, that his plant illustrations were never widely reproduced and published (as they doubtless would have been had he worked at an earlier period), and that he painted so few pictures for gallery exhibition, but we can be grateful for a few hundred plant illustrations of a very high order which the Hunt Institute is proud to represent in this exhibition.

— John Brindle, Art Curator, Hunt Institute
(from "Foreword" to Paintings and Drawings by Frederick A. Walpole, Hunt Institute, 1973)

Other resources
Frederick Andrews Walpole’s work has appeared in the following Institute exhibitions and their accompanying catalogues: Paintings and Drawings by Frederick A. Walpole (1 October 1973–28 February 1974); Gifts of Winter (30 October 2000–28 February 2001); and American Botanical Prints of Two Centuries (27 April–31 July 2003).

Individual portraits of Walpole are available from the Hunt Institute portrait collection in Archives. Thumbnails of the individual portrait holdings are available as a PDF for research purposes. For publication-quality images, contact the Archivist to place an order.

Biographical citations for Walpole are available from the Hunt Institute biographical collection in Archives as a PDF.

Salix, pencil drawing by Frederick Andrews Walpole, 1899. HI Art accession no. 4363.017.

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