Townsend, Harry

Townsend, Harry Everett (1879-1941)

Harry Townsend was born in 1879 on a farm in Wyoming, Illinois. Early in life he earned a living working with a sign painter. He completed high school and went to the University of Wisconsin. He was interested in art and transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago where he studied painting under Frederick Freer and Frank Duveneck and sculpting under Lorado Taft. During the summers Townsend serviced harvesters and binders in central Illinois for the McCormick Harvester Company. He also traveled to the Southwest and painted while living among the Native Americans. Both the Santa Fe and Rock Island Railroads used his art for advertising. In 1900 Townsend was invited to study painting under Howard Pyle in Wilmington, Delaware, which he did for four years. Next, he entered the National Academy of Design in New York to study sculpting under Herman McNeil. Townsend then went to Paris and London. In 1904 he returned to Chicago, taught at the Academy of Fines Arts, and married an art student. On returning to New York, he taught at the Art Students League. He moved to New Jersey and by 1910 was a successful illustrator whose creations appeared in Harper’s, Century, Everybody’s, McClure’s and several books. Townsend also studied etching, lithography, and woodcuts. In 1912 he returned to Europe with his family to set up a studio in northern France, but in 1914 he came back to the U.S. after war began. Once again, he worked as an illustrator.


During the early years of the war Townsend created war posters. In 1917, at the age of 39, he was commissioned as a Captain in the Engineering Corp and was in France by May 1918. He was one of eight official combat artists for the American Expeditionary Forces. War machines were his specialty, and he painted airplanes and the First Aero Pursuit Group of the U. S. Air Service. According to one historian, “Townsend’s work during the war focuses on the human element.”


“He produced a number of images showing how the rigors of combat eventually leave little to distinguish between winners and losers in war.”


His combat art is in the Smithsonian. His diary was published in 1991 as War Diary of a Combat Artist.


In 1921 the Townsends moved to Connecticut and settled in Norwalk, where he would live for the rest of his life. He worked for the WPA Federal Arts Project from 1935 to 1941 and produced 87 pieces of art including two murals. One was the First Settlers in Norwalk for the Benjamin Franklin Junior High School and another was the Purchase of Norwalk in the city hall council chambers. He also painted the first female game warden in the nation, Edith Stoehr of Wethersfield.


Of Townsend’s art, his WPA biography read that, though he had painted landscapes, he preferred “to paint in the figure.”  “All of his work has a decorative quality,” it continued.  “His is a clear, conservative style of great freshness and spontaneity.”


Townsend was a member of the Association of Connecticut Artists, the Silvermine Guild of Artists, the Westport Artist Market, the Architectural League of America, the Salmagundi Club of New York, the Society of Illustrators, the Allied Artists of America, the Society of American Etchers, and the Artists Guild of the Authors League of America. Townsend died in Norwalk in 1941.

Sources:  WPA Artist’s Work Card; WPA Biography; AskART; Who Was Who in American Art (1985), p. 628; Fielding’s Dictionary of American Painters (1986), p. 945; “Harry Everett Townsend (1879-1941)” at War 1-prints/townsend.htm; Self Portrait by Harry Everett Townsend; Walter Kudlick, U. S. Army Official War Artists

Works of Art Listed in CT Archives’ database from Harry Townsend:

Old Barns- Wilton: oil
Zinnias: oil
Blue Jar: oil
Summer Flowers: oil
Petunias: oil
Still Life- Water Kettle: oil
Zinnias: oil
Flowers: oil
Wilton Landscape: oil
Zimmias: oil
Chrysanthemums: oil
Flowers- Chrysanthemums: oil
Memories: oil
Geranium: oil
The Bottle: oil
Cyclamen: oil
Elephants: print
Rehearsal: oil
Daffodils: oil
Geraniums: oil
Zinnias: oil
Still Life or “Petunias”: oil
Girl Quilting: oil
Purchase of Norwalk: oil on canvas
Daffodils: oil
Begonia: oil
Red Cyclamen: oil
Carnations: oil
Tea Roses: oil
Calendulas: oil
Silvermine Hills: oil
Darien Harbor: oil
Petunias: oil
Flower Study: oil
Flower and Fruit: oil
Cyclamen: oil
Man with Guitar: oil
The Blue Dress: oil
Connecticut Farmer: watercolor
Daffodils: oil
Diana: oil
Narcissi: oil
Glass- With Care: oil
Old Woman Mending: oil
Dancer Resting: oil
Folk Song: oil
Reflections- Norwalk River: watercolor
Darien Harbor #3: oil
Zinnias #2: oil
Darien Harbor #4: oil
Petunias #3: oil
First Settlers in Norwalk: oil
Replacement Title: Noroton Shore: oil
Summer Flowers: oil
Darien Harbor Low Tide: oil
Petunias # 2: oil
Nasturtium: oil
Zinnias or Summer Flowers: oil
Norwalk River: oil
Dahlias: oil
Norwalk River- Indian Summer: watercolor
Norwalk River: watercolor
Old Mills- Norwalk: watercolor
At the Clavichord: oil
Modern Norwalk: oil
Flowers: Still Life with Flowers: oil
Jonquils: oil
Mullein: oil
Summer Flowers or Still Life: oil
Spanish Jug and Squash: oil
Petunias #3: oil
Zinnias #3: oil
Man with Cello: oil
Boy with Saxophone: watercolor
Zinnias #4: watercolor
Spanish Jug and Squash: oil
Darien Harbor #2: oil
Noroton Shore: oil
Zinnias: oil
Long Lake: oil
Primula: oil
The Green Bowl: oil
The Blue Bowl: oil
Cyclamen: oil
Cyclamen: oil
Calendulas: oil
Promise of Spring: oil
Ben Franklin Mural: oil
Old Paper Mill: oil
Townsend, Harry