by Dr. Lori Verderame
In the context of his long career, Walter Emerson Baum is of interest not only as a professional artist but as an educator and arts advocate.
Walter Baum was a popular member of the famed New Hope School of Pennsylvania Impressionism.
While I was a curator at the Allentown Art Museum, where Baum taught art for nearly 40 years, the Walter Baum retrospective art exhibition was featured. During my tenure as a museum director, I was proud to host other shows dedicated to this fine artist’s work. Baum’s exhibition record, numerous strong paintings, and his market value make him a master among the Pennsylvania painters. He was so important, even during his lifetime, that many artists tried to copy his style and forgeries are still evident and problematic for the Baum collector.
Born in December of 1884, Walter Emerson Baum was a native of Sellersville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. One of the only Pennsylvania Impressionists to be born in Bucks County, Baum lived his entire life in Sellersville and captured scenes of the area and of the nearby Lehigh Valley often in oil on canvas. Baum’s wife, Flora was a constant companion and often joined him on his painting outings. Baum remains most famous for the scenes of rural life drawn from painting in and around Bucks County and the Lehigh Valley in the 1920s and 1930s.
In terms of art collecting, Baum is best known for his landscapes including farms and small rural houses that were executed in the 1920s. It is these pictures that demonstrate Baum at the height of his talents. The early to mature career paintings, particularly those of the 1920s and 1930s are undoubtedly Baum’s finest works.
By the 1940s, Baum abandoned oil paint and started to experiment with the media of tempera and casein with less than exceptional results. It is evident that these post-1940 works did not consistently possess the same artistic style and visual prominence of his earlier oil paintings from the 1920s. While he was a very prolific painter and produced thousands of paintings, Baum’s later work show his interest in establishing the Baum School of Art and working in a looser and less controlled style of brushwork. These late career paintings show a harder, light-reflective surface attention.
A skilled and beloved teacher, Baum painted with his students outdoors in the plein aire tradition of both the French and American Impressionists. A painter who captured the Pennsylvania landscape in an Impressionistic style, Baum was consistently inspired by the work of his fellow New Hope School painters such as Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber, Fern Coppedge, John Folinsbee, Harry Leith Ross, and George Sotter. His relationship with these artists helped to foster a second generation of New Hope School painters whose works are widely collected today.
Walter Baum was a fellow of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Baum studied with William Trego from 1904-1910 and then, continued his studies at the Academy with Trego, Daniel Garber, and Thomas Anshutz in 1910. In 1925, at the pinnacle of his career, Baum won the prestigious Sesnan Gold Medal for his landscape composition called Sunlight and Shadow. The work is in the collection of the Allentown Art Museum in Allentown, PA.
Walter Baum was an art editor and critic for the Philadelphia Evening and Sunday Bulletin. In 1938, he published a book on the Pennsylvania German heritage in Bucks and Lehigh Counties called, Two Hundred Years.
Baum also painted scenes of historic Manayunk, areas of Bucks County, the streets of Allentown and Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. A founder of the Baum School of Art and the Allentown Art Museum, Baum was an art advocate and influential teacher. His works are included in major collections including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Toledo Art Museum, the Museum of American Art of the Pennsylvania Academy, The James A. Michener Art Museum, and the Allentown Art Museum. Walter Baum died in Sellersville, PA at age 72.
Request an online appraisal of your Walter Emerson Baum piece from Dr. Lori.