Harry Willson Watrous was born in San Francisco and educated in New York. He studied at the National Academy of Design as an adolescent before going to Europe in about 1881.
Watrous’ early work was similar to Vibert’s in style and subject. In 1883, Sacramento Daily Union correspondent Lucy Harper reported from Paris that she had seen a painting for sale that looked like Vibert’s and “the technique of this little work,” Harper wrote, “…[bespeaks] a master hand.”
In 1884 and 1885, Watrous had paintings accepted at the Paris Salon.
Watrous went home to New York in 1886 where his long career at the center of the New York art world began. He began exhibiting at the National Academy of Design in 1894 and showed there annually until his death.
Many of his canvases showed modern, well-dressed women in profile against dreamy backgrounds, smoking, drinking cocktails, and reading paperback novels—the kinds of activities that must have been common at the turn of the 20th century.