William Alexander Coulter, despite his renown as a painter, was drawn to the arts by a love of the sea that endured throughout his life. He was an expert in the form and function of sea going vessels, which allowed him to infuse his paintings, such as his famous rendition of an evacuation of San Francisco, with a realism that invites the viewer's eyes to study every detail of his works.
He studied formally for only a short time, three years, under Jacob Jacobsen, Vilhelm Melby and Francios Musin in the later part of the 1870's. Most of his early life was dedicated to maritime professions, with time spent both as a sailor and in related trades such as sail making. By the early 1900's, he was a recognized artist and was employed by the San Francisco Call newspaper. His art is considered an important visual history of the shipping industry in San Francisco and has been reproduced on stamps. His works are characterized by the ships being represented as harmonious, elegant parts of their environment. With very few exceptions, his paintings are almost all seascapes.
William Alexander Coulter was born in Ireland and died in Sausalito where he kept a studio.