Horatio Walker spent his early youth in Canada before his family moved to Rochester, New York. He received instruction from both R. F. Gagen and miniaturist John A. Fraser while working from 1873 to 1876 in a photographic studio in Toronto. He returned to the United States and visited several cities before establishing a studio in New York in 1878. During the summer of 1880, he sketched in rural Quebec. In 1882 he made the first of his periodic trips to Europe, painting in Spain, Holland, and France with Henry Ranger. In later years, he also visited Africa, Russia, and the Near East. After his marriage in 1883, he spent summers on Ile d'Orléans in Quebec and winters in his studio in New York. By 1893 he was an academician at the National Academy of Design and a winner of four gold medals at major exhibitions, including the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Habitually referred to as "The American Millet," Walker studied farm life wherever he could find it. His paintings, like Millet's to some extent, could vacillate between such sentimentalized genre as his best known work Ave Maria [Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario] and rugged, rather fatalistic scenes of French-Canadian farmers working in the dim light and rugged soil of the Far North. Having been raised among the hardy inhabitants of the Ile d'Orléans, Walker came by his subject matter more naturally than most of his Barbizon-school predecessors and their American counterparts.
Peter Bermingham American Art in the Barbizon Mood (Washington, D.C.: National Collection of Fine Arts and Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975)