Walter Severn, a landscape and marine watercolour painter, was the son of Elizabeth and Joseph Severn, the painter and friend of John Keats. His brother Arthur (1842-1931) was a watercolour painter and his sister Mary (1832-1866) a portrait painter and the wife of the archaeologist Charles Newton. His children included the painters Christian, Cecil and Nigel.
As well as painting landscapes in watercolour, Walter Severn also practised or promoted several of the applied arts. He was a regular exhibitor between 1853 and 1889, showing his work at the Dudley Gallery, Grosvenor Gallery, Agnew and Sons Gallery, Royal Cambrian Academy, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and the Society of British Artists (which elected Whistler its President in 1886). He was himself elected a member of the Royal Cambrian Academy and was one of the founder members of the Dudley Gallery. His works include Cowden Knowes (National Museum of Australia, Sydney) and Port de Borrastle (Victoria, Australia).
According to Arthur Severn, in 1862 Whistler painted The Last of Old Westminster y039 from Walter's rooms in Manchester Buildings, an apartment block on the north bank of the Thames on the site of what is today Scotland Yard. However, Kelly's London Postal Directory for 1862 lists Arthur, Walter and Mary as all living at 83A Ecclestone Square, off the Begrave Road, London S.W. No-one was actually listed as living at 11 Manchester Buildings until 1864, when John Baldry Redman, a civil engineer, lived there. However, Kelly's Directories were not entirely accurate, and indeed in 1863 they brought out a second edition to remedy errors, so Walter might have had rooms or an office or even a studio there (#12745).
Severn was one of the original members of The Arts Club, London, in 1863; Whistler was also a member, intermittently, at a later date.
Sharpe, W., The Life and Letters of Joseph Severn, London, 1892; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908 ; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Gravers, 8 vols, Paris, 1954-61; Birkenhead, S., Illustrious Friends: The Story of Joseph Severn and his Son Arthur, London, 1965; Johnson, J., and A. Gruetzner, Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940, Woodbridge, 1980; Records of The Arts Club, London; Powell, Cecilia, 'Joseph Severn', TThe Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy.