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 Julian (Robert Julian) Onderdonk  (1882 - 1922)



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Lived/Active: Texas/New York      Known for: Floral landscape, genre and seascape painting

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Ad Code: 1
Julian Onderdonk
from Auction House Records.
Blue Bonnet Field, Early Morning, San Antonio Texas
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known as the "Bluebonnet Painter", Robert Julian Onderdonk was a Texan who spent his summer's in New York City and the remainder of the year in San Antonio.  He earned his title from the many wildflower paintings he did of the flowering fields near his hometown.

He was the son and art student of artist Robert Jenkins Onderdonk and the brother of Eleanor Onderdonk, also a prominent Texas painter, sculptor, and art administrator. In 1901, when he was nineteen, he went to New York and enrolled at the Art Students League and became a student of Kenyon Cox, Robert Henri, and Frank DuMond.  He also studied with William Merritt Chase at Chase's summer school at Shinnecock on Long Island and the New York School of Art, and Chase had a continuing influence on his work.

Ever in need of money to support his love of painting, Onderdonk took a temporary position in 1906 with the Dallas State Fair Association to put on an art exhibit, and three years later he took a job with them that lasted until until his premature death in 1922 at age forty.

Onderdonk married in 1902, and when he returned to Texas in 1909, the New York art critics had become aware of him.  Onderdonk would maintain a foothold in the art world there because his employment by the Dallas State Fair Association required him to return on a yearly basis to New York City.

Even though the artist had never been a member, the National Academy of Design in New York City took the rather extraordinary step, upon his death, of exhibiting Onderdonk's last painting, "Dawn in the Hills". A fund-raising campaign in San Antonio purchased the painting for the city's art museum.

Robert Julian Onderdonk was a member of the Allied Artists of America, Salmagundi Club and San Antonio Art League. His paintings are in the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Fort Worth Art Association, Museum of Fine Arts of Houston, San Antonio Museum Association and Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas

David Michael Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
John and David Powers, Texas Painters, Sculptors and Graphic Artists

Biography from Rainone Galleries, Inc.:
Julian Onderdonk, the first of Robert and Emily Onderdonk’s talented children, was born in San Antonio in 1882.  All of the Onderdonk children---Julian, Eleanor, and Latrobe---exhibited early signs of artistic talent.  Even though Eleanor was a very competent portrait, landscape and still-life painter, and later in life, a curator of art at the Witte Museum, it was Julian who became the most well-known Onderdonk.

His father and mentor taught him the rudiments of art and stressed the importance of drawing at a early age.  Like the Old Masters, the young boy learned to draw before he was allowed to pick up the paints.  The drawings he did in the 1880s and 90s were described by critics as being done by an accomplished artist far beyond his years.

At the age of ten, he won second place for a watercolor he exhibited in the 1892 Dallas Fair.  In 1898, he presented a fine pen and ink drawing to his best boyhood friend.  Soon after that he presented the family an unusual large colorful painting for their dining room.  But as the sales of his works increased, he would have no further need to give them away.

From 1898 to 1899, Julian attended West Texas Military Academy, where he was the editor of their magazine, Bugle Notes.  His military training definitely prepared him for his adventure to New York City in January 1901.  He studied at the Art Students League, under Kenyon Cox and took classes under Frank DuMond and Robert Henri.  Under the tutelage of William Merritt Chase at his Shinnecock Summer School of Art at Southampton, Long Island, the young artist was encouraged, criticized, and helped to develop his own individual style.

In 1902, Julian married Gertrude Shipman, his next door neighbor in New York.  He struggled to support his new family, producing paintings that sold for little money. Sometimes he did restoration and often painted what he called ‘pot boilers’ for extra income, which were signed under the assumed names Roberto Vasquez and Tunison.  When his paintings began to sell, he stopped this type of work.

The art school that Julian started with fellow American artist Guy du Bois in 1904 was short lived.  When asked by the Dallas Fair Association to organize the art exhibit in 1906 (a project he continued until his death), Julian and Gertrude made the decision to return to Texas.  He began to paint historic structures like the Alamo and started taking trips west of his home in San Antonio to paint on ranches.

During this time, Julian molded together the tonalist style he learned from his father and the progressive Impressionist style from New York.  His first panoramic Texas landscapes of bluebonnet fields, lifting haze, cactus, live oaks with Spanish moss hanging and powerful Texas skies began to emerge.

During World War I, Julian used his talents to draw large range finding targets for the Army, that were used by machine gun crews and rifle practice.  The 1920 Dallas Fair was successful despite difficulties due to a shipping strike that kept many of the New York artist’s paintings from arriving.  In 1922, Julian was flooded with requests for his paintings from all parts of the country.  Although he was behind in his work and even lost some commissions, he made time for the San Antonio Art Leagues projects and shows.  They made him an honorary life member.  Despite ill health, Julian also set up the historic 1922 Dallas Fair.

Julian Onderdonk died, probably from appendicitis, on October 27, 1922, at the age of forty.  Texas artist Rolla Taylor paid tribute in Onderdonk’s obituary in the San Antonio Express, when he said: “no artist in the South was equal to Onderdonk and that through his recognition in the highest artistic circles of America, Texas and San Antonio have become recognized for their wealth of material for the artist’s canvas.”

Written by Peter C. Rainone, as published in American Art Review, June 2008

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, IV:
Julian Onderdonk was the son of the important Texas landscapist, Robert Onderdonk. He was the father’s pupil at age 16. Sponsored by a Texas patron, he studied at the Art Students League in New York when he was 19, the pupil of Kenyon Cox, Frank DuMond, and Robert Henri. He also studied with William Merritt Chase on Long Island. In 1902, having lost his Texas patron because he married, he asked $18 for 12 paintings at a Fifth Avenue dealer in New York City, and was glad to accept $14 for the lot.

In 1909, Julian Onderdonk returned to the family studio in San Antonio. He painted “the bigness of Texas, dusty roads, the blooming cactus or hillsides of blue lupine, rolling gulf clouds, aged liveoaks, and the gray brush in winter. His style changed somewhat in his later years.”

Onderdonk was heavy-set with dark eyes and hair, quiet and serious, “a strong personality.” When he died at 40, “five of his pictures were on the way to New York. He also had order ahead for $20,000 of work.” He was known as the painter of the bluebonnet flowers of Texas.

SAMUELS’ Encyclopedia of ARTISTS of THE AMERICAN WEST, Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing

Biography from Whistle Pik Galleries:
Julian Onderdonk (1882 – 1922)

Julian Onderdonk was a native of San Antonio and son of Robert Jenkins Onderdonk. In 1901, at the age of nineteen, he moved to New York City and attended several art schools. He then studied plein-aire painting with William Merritt Chase at his summer school in Shinecock, New York.

He returned to Texas in 1909 and continued to enjoy considerable success during his lifetime. He became best known for his paintings of bluebonnets, but he also loved to depict the Texas Hill Country in all its incarnations. Unfortunately, he suffered an early death at the age of forty.

In 2008, the Dallas Museum of Art held an exhibition entitled "Bluebonnets and Beyond: Julian Onderdonk, American Impressionist".

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