A prominent figure painter in his day, Harry Mills Walcott was born in Torrington, Connecticut, where his father was a clergyman. His family moved to Bergen County, New Jersey, when Walcott was six years old. When he came of age Walcott went to New York to enroll at the National Academy of Design, where he studied under the noted figure and mural painter, Will Low. In 1894, Walcott won the academy’s Havermeyer Traveling Scholarship and so he went to Paris. There he entered the Académie Julian, a private academy very popular with visiting Americans, where Walcott studied under the French academicians Jean-Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant. Walcott showed works painted in the academic mode at the Paris Salons of 1897, 1898, and 1899, receiving an Honorable Mention in 1897.
Walcott returned to New York around the turn of the century. He quickly became an active presence in the art world, showing his works regularly at the National Academy in New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Walcott also showed his works at the landmark World’s Fairs of his day, including the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, in 1901; the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904; and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, California, in 1915. Walcott won medals at each of these fairs. Walcott moved to Chicago to take a teaching position at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he remained for many years. After he retired, he and his wife, the artist Anabel Havens (1840–1919), moved to Newark Township, Ohio, with Walcott ultimately removing to California in his later years, where he lived on Coronado Island in San Diego.
While Walcott received favorable reviews and was an esteemed teacher, only a handful of works by Walcott are known today. From what little has surfaced it is clear that Walcott was a figure painter par excellence who specialized in genre scenes, especially those depicting children and adolescents. He frequently chose broad, almost exaggerated horizontal formats, typically placing the figures at the center of the composition and cropping closely at the top and bottom to enliven the sense of motion or drama of his subjects. He favored an overall flatness of design, a hallmark of mural and decorative painting that would seem to be derived from Walcott’s early studies with Will Low. This overall decorative flatness is accentuated by Walcott’s somewhat restrained color palette.