Willard Leroy Metcalf was born at Lowell, Massachusetts (USA) on July 1, 1858. He got in touch with art as an apprentice to a wood engraver. He studied landscape painting with his friend George Loring Brown before attending the Boston Museum of Fine Arts classes.
Like many of his colleagues he turned to illustration as a means of making money. Through his illustrations for Harper's and Century magazines, he became one of the first artists to document the Indians of Arizona and New Mexico for a popular audience.
In 1883, Metcalf went to France, where like many American artists of his time, he continued his studies at the Académie Julian in Paris. He studied under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Joseph Lefebvre. He absorbed the major stylistic tendencies of the day.
He returned to the Boston area in 1888. By 1891, he was established in New York City supported by illustration assignments, some portrait work and teaching. In 1896, he won the coveted Webb Prize at the Society of American Artists' Annual Exhibition.
The following year he composed the statement of secession for The Ten American Painters who constituted a kind of academy of American Impressionism and broke away from the Society to exhibit on their own. A 1904 trip to Maine caused a decisive change for the better in Metcalf's style. His luminous and quiet depiction of the countryside was marked by a combination of native realism and French Impressionism. It was from this time on he began to be known as the premier painter of the New England countryside. Though he maintained a studio in New York City, he painted throughout New England. His brush work and clean-cut color was appropriate to the subject he chose and which he painted with such "sincerity and force."
Willard L. Metcalf died in New York City in 1925.