New Walter Launt Palmer Snow Scene for the Collection

W. Douglas McCombs, Chief Curator

On this snowy day, it seems only appropriate to discuss a recent addition to the Albany Institute's collection, a snow scene painted by Walter Launt Palmer, the master of American snow scenes. Palmer was born in Albany in 1854 and throughout his long professional career as a painter he perfected the illusion of shadows on freshly fallen snow. More specifically, he was one of the first artists to paint shadows in colors. His snow scenes, like this newly acquired painting, come alive with blue, violet, and rose-colored snow. As a native of Albany, the Albany Institute has the largest public collection of artwork by Palmer, including drawings, sketchbooks, photographs, and manuscript materials.
In May of last year I received an email from Lorraine Foster. She indicated that she owned a large Palmer painting that had been in the family for three generations and she was looking to find a new home for it. Since the Institute has a Palmer collection and the artist hailed from Albany, she thought the Albany Institute may be an appropriate place. The photo of the painting she attached looked promising and I immediately wrote back to her. Long story short, Lorraine agreed to donate the painting to the Albany Institute and delivered it later in the fall.
When the painting arrived, it was in remarkable good condition except for an overall yellow discoloration in the varnish. Lorraine kindly offered to help support the conservation of the painting and the frame, which accompanied the painting through the three generations of owners.
The painting was sent to Williamstown Art Conservation Center for treatment. In addition to removing all the old, yellow varnish, small specks of paint loss were infilled and some areas stabilized, or consolidated, to prevent any further flaking of paint. The canvas and stretcher vacuumed and a coat of synthetic resin varnish was applied. The transformation was amazing as the before and after photographs reveal.
Before conservation
After conservation
Old label on back of frame
According to the donor, the painting was originally purchased by her husbands aunt, Miss Ethel Grandy, who was born in Johnstown, New York, in 1894. In addition to the bit of family history, the painting also came with an old label, possibly applied to back of the frame not long after Palmer painted it. The title "Head Waters" allowed me to delve a bit deeper into the painting's history. 
Contained in the Walter Launt Palmer manuscript collection in the Albany Institute's Library, Palmer's sales record book provided further information. Walter made an entry in 1914 for the sale of Head Waters. He noted the size of 24 inches wide by 32 inches high, which exactly matches the new painting. He also indicated it was oil on canvas and was painted in the 1911. The sales book also records it sold at Annesley's Gallery, Albany's venerable art gallery and art materials supplier. Palmer exhibited many of his paintings at Annesley's and the gallery regularly sold his work. 
Unfortunately, Palmer did not record the buyer of the painting, possibly because Annesley's did not provide that information. Did the twenty year-old Miss Ethel Grandy acquire it? Maybe. But more likely another family member purchased it and it descended to Miss Ethel later in life. 
We're thrilled this beautiful snow scene has made it's way back to Albany and can join the Albany Institute's amazing collection of Palmer paintings. 
To see more works by Walter Launt Palmer, visit our online collections.
March 23, 2020