Julian A. Weir (1852-1919)

Julian A. Weir (1852-1919)

Best remembered as one of America’s foremost Impressionists, Julian Alden Weir was born in West Point, New York, to a family with a strong artistic legacy.  His father, Robert Weir, was an art instructor at West Point, and his older half-brother, John Ferguson Weir, was an accomplished painter and later served as Director of the Fine Arts department at Yale University.  Julian first took lessons from his father and in 1868, at the age of 16, entered the National Academy of Design where he remained for the next five years.  Following the Academy, Weir went abroad to Paris, studying at the École des Beaux Arts under Jean-Léon Gérome, whose belief in strong draftsmanship with a careful attention to detail had a lasting influence on the young artist. Weir befriended several American painters while in Paris, including John Singer Sargent and James Carroll Beckwith, and also associated with his French classmates and the renowned naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage.  His relationships with Bastien-Lepage and his European contemporaries lasted for years with return trips abroad, and placed him in the midst of a changing art world, as painters began exploring a balance between their formal studio training and a growing interest in Impressionism. 

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Upon his return home in 1877, Weir opened a studio in New York City and became an active and prominent figure in the art community, a role he maintained throughout his career. He joined the Society of American Artists, was a founding member of the Society of Painters in Pastel, and took part in numerous art club exhibitions of the period, including the National Academy, the Boston Art Club and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. While keeping to this active exhibition schedule, Weir supported himself with portrait work and followed in the teaching footsteps of his father and brother, serving on the faculty of the Cooper Union Art School and the Art Students League, and also offered private instruction.

In 1882, Weir acquired a farm in Branchville, Connecticut, and one year later married Anna Dwight Baker. Their marriage was a happy one and she bore him three daughters before tragically passing away during the birth of their youngest, Cora, in 1892. Through the 1880s, Weir's choice in subjects ranged from carefully positioned figure paintings and interiors to more intimate, loosely-styled still lifes, most executed with darker tones and formats he had gleaned while studying the Old Masters.  He also began his foray into landscape, but with the death of Anna, found respite from his grief in focusing his energies on a mural for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Later that year, Weir married Ella Baker, Anna's older sister, and found further solace in the healing power of nature.  His palette brightened and he began producing more landscapes and outdoor figure studies, less formal in structure, and often using the grounds and environs of his Branchville farm as inspiration. 

Weir was elected a full member of the National Academy in 1886, serving as President from 1915 to 1917, and continued showing with the Society of American Artists until 1897, when he and nine other painters resigned in protest at their strict exhibition standards. This group, later known as the Ten American Painters, included such notables as his friend Twachtman, Childe Hassam, Willard L. Metcalf and the Boston painters Frank W. Benson and Edmund Tarbell. While most are known for their Impressionist tendencies, the group valued each member's individualism and showed together for twenty years.  In addition to his shows with The Ten, Weir held two solo exhibitions in New York in 1907 and 1908, and a retrospective exhibition traveled from several Northeast venues to Ohio between 1911 and 1912.

Throughout his career, Weir was awarded numerous awards and accolades and his work was collected by major museums during his lifetime, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Today, examples can be found in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and many other venerable institutions. Julian Alden Weir's death in December of 1919 was a loss felt keenly throughout the art community.  Vose Galleries, who handled his work in the mid-teens, arranged a memorial exhibition in May of 1920, followed four years later by a larger show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the gallery's 1920 catalogue, R. C. and N. M. Vose write of Weir with a fondness shared by his friends and admirers:

It is often said that an artist puts himself upon his canvases. This is nowhere better exemplified than in the paintings of the late Julian Alden Weir. Those who knew him and his art almost invariably speak of both with deep affection, as well as with enthusiastic admiration. To what other artist of our day is given the unqualified esteem of so many of his brother painters, be they academic, impressionist, or radical? [1]

The Branchville Farm, a retreat for Weir and his artist friends who visited and painted alongside him, was declared a National Historic Site in 1990. Landscapes by these painters, including Childe Hassam and John Twachtman, can be found in private and public collections capturing different locations around the 60-acre farm. In this composition, Weir chooses the view from behind the family's house, looking northeast, with the edge of the barn on the right and a farmer's wagon in the distance.  


[1] Catalogue, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings by J. Alden Weir, P.N.A., May 3 – May 22, 1920, Vose Galleries, Boston

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