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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

J. Alden Weir

The Spreading Oak, J. Alden Weir
"I never in my life saw more horrible things... They do not observe drawing nor form, but give you an impression of what they call nature. It was worse than the Chamber of Horrors." --J. Alden Weir, Paris, 1877
If you haven't guessed by now this twenty-five-year-old "American in Paris" for the first time in his life was reacting in disgust to a new type of painting he'd just encountered--Impression-ism. Weir was accustomed to painting in a realistic, American Academic style as seen in his The Spreading Oak (top). What he encountered in Paris were paintings such as Claude Monet's Landscape with Thunderstorm (below). Today we'd call his reaction "culture shock."

Landscape with Thunderstorm, Claude Monet
Julian Alden Weir was no "babe in the woods" when it came to art. Born in 1852, he was one of sixteen children. His father was none other than the painter, Robert Walter Weir, a professor of drawing at the Military Academy at West Point, who had once taught James McNeill Whistler. His older brother, John Ferguson Weir, also became a well-known landscape artist painting in the style of the Hudson River school. He was professor of painting and design at Yale University from 1869, credited with starting the first academic art program on an American campus. The younger Weir had, himself completed his initial art training at the National Academy of Design in the early 1870s before heading off to Paris in 1873 to study at the city's famed École des Beaux-Arts. While there, he studied under the famous French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme.
An artist matures, and reserves the right to change his mind.
About the same time he mailed off his diatribe denouncing Impressionism, Weir met his father's former student, James McNeill Whistler in London, shortly before returning to New York City. Although Weir's painting style didn't change appreciably, his having become acquainted with Whistler and his work may well have changed his attitude toward Impressionism. Upon his return to New York, Weir became a charter member of the Society of American Artists and continued exhibiting his work at the National Academy of Design, where he had first displayed his paintings in 1875. He earned income through portrait commissions and teaching art classes at the Cooper Union Women’s Art School, the Art Students League, and in giving private lessons.

Fireside Dreams, 1887, J. Alden Weir
Weir's works as a young artist centered on still-lifes and the human figure, which he rendered in a realist style as he grew to like the work of Édouard Manet. In fact, Weir purchased two paintings by Manet in the early 1880s, Woman with a Parrot and Boy with a Sword, for a New York collector. It took a while, but gradually, Weir was beginning to lose his loathing for French Impressionism. One of his own paintings, Fireside Dreams (above) from 1887, while certainly no treatise on Impressionism, does suggest a loosening of brushwork influenced by Whistler and indirectly, the French art he'd so detested.

The Weir Farm is open to artists and tourists today.
The Christmas Tree, J. Alden Weir
In the 1880s Weir moved to rural Ridgefield, Connecticut, where he had acquired a farm through his marriage to Anna Baker in 1883. While there, he strengthened his friendship with artists Albert Pinkham Ryder and John Henry Twachtman. The art of Weir and Twachtman was quite similar; and the two sometimes painted and exhibited together. Both taught at the Art Students League. Weir's The Christmas Tree (right), depicting his daughter, is from this period. By 1891 Weir had fully changed his mind about Impressionism, having come to accept and adopted the style as his own. His one-man show at the Blakeslee gallery in the same year clearly displayed his newfound love for that which he'd once rejected. His work demonstrated a tendency toward a lighter palette of pastel colors and broken brushwork akin to the Impressionists. Weir's The Red Bridge (below), from 1895, is considered his best work and demonstrates quite well, not just his acceptance of Impressionism but his wholehearted embracing of the style.

The Red Bridge, ca. 1895, Julian Alden Weir
Dry-point etching, J. Alton Weir
Weir's wife, Anna, died in 1892. Soon afterwards, Weir married her sister, Ella Baker. This time he inherited another farm in Windham, Con-necticut. This was not the first time he had ever seen the Windham farm. Weir had been there with Anna some ten years before. On his first visit in 1882, the beautiful farm and sur-rounding village made quite an impression on him. About the same time, Weir took up etching, depicting his new land and the local "color" in black and white. (Actually, his ink was brown, and his paper more tan than white as seen below.) Weir's untitled dry-point etching (left) indicates a mastery of the technical intricacies of this antique medium.

The Stone Bridge, 1887-93, J. Alden Weir
During the remainder of his life Weir painted impressionist landscapes and figurative works, many of which centered on his Connecticut farms. His style varied from traditional, vibrant impressionism to a more subdued and shadowy tonalism. In general, Weir's paintings done after 1900 showed a renewed interest of the Academicism similar to his work in his younger days, with subjects treated less realistically and a greater emphasis placed on drawing and design. His The Bridge--Nocturne, (below) is from 1910 and bears a strong resemblance to the nocturnal work of his friend, Whistler. Weir's other love besides painting was dogs and hunting as seen in one of his later efforts painted about 1912 (bottom). It would seem that artists have the right to change their minds...then change back again if they like. J. Alden Weir died in 1919.

Urban art, The Bridge--Nocturne, 1910, J. Alden Weir

Rural art, Hunter and Dogs,
1912, J. Alden Weir


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