Along with his brother Henry, Walter created many detailed and naturalistic street, river, and cityscapes of England. They studied life drawing with M. Barthe at Limerston Street in Chelsea where they met James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) in 1863. Walter was captivated by Whistler’s artistic style and way of life. The Greaves brothers developed a friendship with Whistler and served as his assistants and pupils. Walter Greaves recalled, “We used to get ready his colours and canvasses, prepare the grey distemper ground which he so liked working upon, and painted the mackerel-back pattern on the frames.”
Walter’s friendship with Whistler ended sometime in the early 1880s when Joseph Pennell, Whistler’s friend and biographer, damaged his reputation by accusations of Whistler painting some of his canvases. Many of Greaves later works, unlike his crude early work, share a style peculiar to Whistler.
According to the Centre For Whistler Studies, Walter spent many years in neglect and poverty. He was re-discovered by William Marchant, proprietor of the Goupil Galleries, who put on an exhibition of his work in 1911. But after Pennell’s accusations, the final eight years of Greaves life were spent as a Poor Brother of the Charterhouse.
Walter Greaves exhibited in London at the Grosvenor Gallery and the Goupil Galleries, as well as at the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and Manchester City Art Gallery.
His work is in the collections of the Whistler House Museum of Art in Lowell, MA; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA; the Cleveland Museum of Art in OH; the Tate Gallery in London; the National Portrait Gallery in London; the Museum of London, UK; the Courtauld Institute, UK; the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.