WITHERS, Walter Herbert (1854-1914), always known as Walter Withers

WITHERS, Walter Herbert (1854-1914), always known as Walter Withers
was born at Handsworth, Staffordshire, on 22 October 1854, the son of Edwin Withers. He showed an early desire to paint, but objection was made to this by his father. It is not known what occupation he followed in England, but in 1882 he arrived in Australia with the intention of going on the land. After working for about 18 months on a farm, Withers removed to Melbourne and obtained a position as draughtsman in a firm of printers. He then took up his painting again, and began to exhibit with the Victorian academy of arts afterwards merged in the Victorian Artists' Society. In 1887 Withers went to Europe. There he was married to Miss F. Flinn and studied for some months at the Académie Julien, Paris. He returned to Australia with his wife in June 1888 having been commissioned to do black and white work for Messrs Fergusson and Mitchell of Melbourne. His most important work in this way will be found in the illustrations to E. Finn's (q.v.), The Chronicles of Early Melbourne.
Withers settled down at first at Kew, a suburb of Melbourne, and then near Heidelberg on the other side of the river Yarra. He became friendly with Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder (q.v.), Tom Roberts (q.v.), F. McCubbin (q.v.) and other leading artists of the period. He began to sell a few pictures, but the collapse of the land boom put an end to his illustrative work. He obtained some work as a drawing and painting master in schools, and in 1891 opened a studio in Collins-street west, where he held his first private exhibition. In 1894 his masterpiece, "Tranquil Winter", was exhibited at the Victorian Artists' Society exhibition and bought by the trustees of the national gallery of Victoria. He settled down to a steady career of painting not at first selling largely. In 1897 he was awarded the first Wynne art prize at Sydney for his picture, "The Storm", which was in the same year purchased for the national gallery of New South Wales. He had been elected a member of the council of the Victorian Artists' Society in 1889, and in 1905 held the office of president for a year. His health was not good towards the end of his life but he continued to do a large amount of painting both in oil and in water-colours. He died on 13 October 1914 and was survived by his wife and four children.
Withers was purely a landscape painter, excelling particularly in delicate colour harmonies such as his "Tranquil Winter". He was inclined to wear himself out when painting his larger pictures, which are generally less successful than his smaller efforts, but the general level of his work is high and much of it has great beauty.
(Mrs F. Withers), The Art and Life of Walter Withers; W. Moore, The Story of Australian Art; personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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