William Henry Howe was born in Ravenna, Ohio in November 1844. He was the son of Elisha Bigalow and Celestia (Russel) Howe, grandson of John Howe and of Almond Russell, and a descendant on his mother’s side from the Pilgrim Fathers. His father was born at Old Concord, Mass., his ancestors having come from England about 1700. After graduating from high school in Ravenna, William Howe worked as a clerk in his hometown until the Civil War, which he spent assigned to duty at the Johnson Island Prison on Lake Erie.
After the war, he became a traveling sales representative for general dry-goods companies, based first in Grand Rapids, Michigan, then in Saint Louis, Missouri. In the latter city, he met his future wife, Julia M. Clark, whom he married in 1876. Two years later he took up lessons in drawing, and in 1879, at age thirty-five, he went to Europe to pursue artistic study.
Howe enrolled at the Dusseldorf Academy in early 1880, but he left after eighteen months because of philosophical conflicts with what he termed Prussian “militarism.” Moving to Paris, he studied under the Austrian cattle painter Otto de Thoren and, after de Thoren’s death in 1889, under Felix de Vuillefroy. Howe remained in Europe until 1893 (except for an 1884 visit to St. Louis), often exhibiting his paintings of Cattle in the Paris Salon. He traveled regularly, usually spending summers in Holland, where he sketched with the artist Anton Mauve.
Upon his return to the United States, Howe settled in Bronxville, becoming the “founder” of the artists’ colony there. In Bronxville he sketched landscape and animals. He had exhibited at the National Academy in 1884, during his visit home. His second exhibit in an academy annual was 1894, and on this occasion was elected to Associate membership. Thereafter Howe’s works were seen in virtually every Academy exhibition until a few years before his death.
He made several trips back to Europe but by 1902 was spending summers in Old Lyme, Connecticut; he took an active interest in the artists’ colony there. In later years, his activities were restricted by ill health. He died in Bronxville New York in 1929.
He received gold and silver medals and other honors from various exhibitions; honorable mention from the Paris Salon of 1886 and a gold medal in 1888, and gold medals from the New Orleans exposition in 1885; Exposition Universelle, Paris, in 1889; World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893; and from London, New York, San Francisco and Atlanta. He was awarded the title of Officer d’Academie by the French government in 1896, and the cross of Legion d’Honneur in 1898. He was elected a member of the Society of American Artists in 1899, and a life member of the Lotos Club and of the Salmagundi Club.
Howe’s artwork hangs in the National Gallery of Art, the Carnegie Institute, St. Louis Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and many other museums.