Tennessee native George de Forest Brush began his art career at an early age; at 16, he enrolled at the National Academy of Design and then continued his training at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He studied with Jean-Léon Gérôme, whose academic figurative paintings greatly influenced him.
Brush brought the precise skills he had learned to the American West when he returned to the United States in 1880. Traveling with his brother, he spent time among the Arapaho, Shoshone, and Crow Indians in Wyoming and Montana, producing a series of paintings and illustrations with Native American subjects. He continued to produce these romanticized depictions when he returned to work in New York, where he also taught at the Art Students League.
Brush was in California in the summer of 1881 and exhibited this portrait of Elizabeth Sinton Walker at the San Francisco gallery of Morris & Kennedy. The sitter, from San Francisco, was the wife of Harry Walker, author of Walker’s Manual, a technical record of mining stocks.
Pensive and serene, the portrait hints at Brush’s later work, which consisted largely of portraiture and paintings of mothers with children. He traveled to Florence in 1890 and was inspired by Renaissance depictions of the Madonna and Child. He began producing secular versions of the subject with his wife and children as models. He also found a ready market for portraiture among the wealthy families in Dublin, New Hampshire, where he purchased a farm in 1901. He painted there for nearly four decades until a 1937 fire destroyed his studio.