The Wayfarers, otherwise called The Blind Man by Fred Walker. Etching, thought to have been composed in 1863. Framed: ​14.4 cm high by 14.9 cm wide. Courtesy of Dundee Art Galleries & Museum: 272-1987-310. The British Museum has a version “printed by John Postle Heseltine (his assistant). It was published by Noseda. At bottom of the British Museum Impression is the inscription ‘J. Noseda, 109 The Strand.’” (The Orchar Collection Prints). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Commentary

Walker’s later painting differs from this etching in interesting ways that reveal how differently the artist approached painting and etching. When Walker returned to the subject in this oil painting he transformed the ragged old blind man into a veteran and made the composition more dynamic by having the old man’s cane extend to the side and making the body of the boy, his guide, create a curving space between the two figures. Walker also replaced the single tree, open sky, and furrowed fields with a bush in the right foreground and multiple trees at different distances from the wayfarers. Equally important, he exchanged the dry roadway with a wet reflective surface, and the clear, bright lighting and mood of the etching with an autumnal one appropriate to the age of the veteran.

Although the rural road passing through cultivated country in the fall might be anywhere in England outside the new, industrialised cities, the background depicts the outskirts of Haslemere, Surrey, where Walker often painted in the open air during February 1863. The etching impressed Vincent Van Gogh, who wrote his friend the artist Anthon van Rappard on 28 March 1882, asking,“'Do you know The Wayfarers by Fred Walker? It’s a large etching of a blind old man led by a boy along a frozen road, with a ditch with copse-wood covered with glazed frost, and osiers, on a winter evening. It’s certainly one of the most sublime creations in that genre, with an utterly modern, distinctive sentiment, perhaps less robust than Dürer in his Knight, Death and Devil (plate), but perhaps even more intimate, and certainly as original and sincere'. [quoted Dundee Art Galleries & Museum site]

Claude Phillips praises this example of Walker's art as etcher for its "absolute grasp of nature" (22). The much older, disabled man determinedly moves from left to right against a backdrop of fallow fields and leafless trees, a landscape, remarks Phillips, "more prosaic and less attractive than in the later version" (22), which develops the autumnal scene and provides the blind walker with a certain verve as he strides forward. Despite his obvious preference for the painting (see blow), Phillips sums up Walker's accomplishment in the engraving succinctly but forcefully: “For truth and power of suggestion these two figures are at least as fine as anything of the kind Walker has done, although they may not be acceptable to those who prefer the milder and less boldly characterized version of the oil-painting” (69).

In addition to the painting, a watercolor version exists: The Artnet website reproduces one from 1869 with the following dimensions: 35.5 x 50.8 cm. (14 x 20 in.). According to Artvalue, another site, it was sold at Sotheby’s in 2001 and the Christie’s site states it was sold for £83,650 in November 2004. — George P. Landow and Philip V. Allingham.

The Related Oil-Painting, Exhibited in 1866 at Gambart's Gallery, St. James's

Above: Walker's refined version of the blindman and his youthful guide as exhibited three years after the engraving was published.

References

Black, Clementina. Frederick Walker. London: Duckworth, 1902.

Dundee Art Galleries & Museum. "The Blind Man." Etching. The Ochar Collection of Prints, 1863. Web. 14 July 2018.

Phillips, Claude. Frederick Walker and His Works. London: Seeley & Co., 1905. P. 22.

Walker, Fred. ​ The Wayfarers." Etching. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1863. Web. 14 July 2018.


Last modified 28 July 2018