David Walling Humphrey Biography

David Walling Humphrey

American

1872-1950

Biography

David Walling Humphrey was born in February 28, 1872 in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, the fourth child of Benjamin Blodgett and Mary Jane Walling Humphrey. His mother died just 41 days after he was born. Humphrey was educated in Elkhorn public schools in the southeast Wisconsin community.  On November 18,1889 a Warranty Deed (Vol. 102, p 49) was recorded for $1,000 from David to his sister Hattie on a piece of jointly-owned property inherited from their father Benjamin Humphrey. He could then afford to study at the Art Institute of Chicago which was called the 'Art Mecca of the Middle West' at that time. As an honor student in Chicago and a serious student of contemporary art, he worked hard to establish himself in the art community. David chose for his subjects, figures, genre (human activities) and nude figures and mythology.

He concentrated on monotypes, a technique that creates a unique original print with each impression. This is a slow, labor-intensive process that produces perfection rather than quantity. Frequently, he went to the countryside and did sketches with pastels, then returned to his studio to create the monotype metal plate. Monotypes were a spontaneous approach developed soon after the etching revival of the late 1870s. Although monotypes are classed with graphic arts, Humphrey's work was superior in quality and was referred to more often as a painting.

David Humphrey continued to study at the Academie Julian and with J.A.M. Whistler for two years in Paris. On January 15, 1900, he wrote the following letter his sister Hattie in Wisconsin (excerpts):

Dear Sister, It is more difficult to come here a perfect stranger than I imagined though as it turned out I could hardly have done better if I had been with someone. Sunday morning as I was standing in the front entrance of my hotel, an old Art Institute man (Mr. Hoehn) came down stairs with whom I was well acquainted. He took me to the school Monday and I was started in without any difficulty. 

I attend the Julian's Academy under J.P. Laurens and Benj Constant one half day mornings. There are four divisions of the school and two of them are in the same building, Laurens and Constant on the second floor with Bouguereau and G. Ferrier on the ground floor. In the afternoons, I have to see the city and its galleries and in the evenings, I study at Academe Colorossi's from seven until ten. Both schools are the strongest in drawing and in academic painting. In another month, I expect to change Julian's for Whistler's school and paint…

At the approximate age of 45 Humphrey exhibited about 20 paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago, National Academy of Design, Society of Independent Artists and one of the leading New York galleries. His paintings have a dream-like quality with nymphs or spiritual figures, but still depict strength and action.

Humphrey lived and worked in New York for many years as per U.S. Census - 1910 New York, NY; 1920 New York, NY; and 1930 in Richmond, NY before moving to Connecticut. He also later taught art at Stamford (Conn.) High School. David Humphrey was associated with the Silvermine Guild/Art Colony and a member of the Society of Independent Artists. His works were shared with family members and one entitled "The Rivals" ca.1900 was purchased by the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. Numerous times he is mentioned in writings of artists. At the time of his death, two of his works were hanging in the New Jersey Art Gallery and the Brooklyn Art Gallery. (Source: David's obituary published in the Stamford Advocate, Conn., June 12, 1950).

David W. Humphrey died on June 11, 1950 in Stamford, Connecticut at age 78.

Excerpted from the biography compiled and submitted to Ask Art by Sylvia Holt, wife of artist's grand-nephew, Benjamin Humphrey Holt.