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 Edwin Lord Weeks  (1849 - 1903)

About: Edwin Lord Weeks
 

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts / Europe      Known for: genre-exotic views and architectural paintings-Orientalist

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BIOGRAPHY for Edwin Weeks
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Birth
1849 (Boston, Massachusettes)
 
Death
1903 (Paris, France)

Lived/Active
Massachusetts / Europe

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genre-exotic views and architectural paintings-Orientalist

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Edwin Lord Weeks was born near Boston and educated in Boston and Newton public schools, although he spent very of his adult life outside the United States.  His artistic career began in 1869 with a sketching trip to Florida, then on to Surinam and other destinations in South America. Returning to Massachusetts, he for a short time painted landscapes and historical pictures in Boston.

Leaving Boston, he went to Paris where he studied with Leon Bonnat, and also under Jean-Leon Gerome at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  Weeks, like Gerome, was interested in Oriental subject matter, and as a student traveled to North Africa, Spain, and the Middle East.

In 1872, he returned to Massachusetts, married his cousin, Frances Rollins Hale, and set up a studio.  After less than a year, the young couple joined Robert Gavin, a Scottish painter, on a trip to the Mediterranean and Morocco.  The rest of the 1870s he spent there, returning to Boston only occasionally to exhibit and do illustration work.

His work during the 1870s emulated Gerome, and his painting Departure from the Stronghold would be typical of the style he favored during this time.  During the 1880s his paintings became more technical and detailed, as in The Gate at the Fortress of Agra.  One theory for this change is that Weeks, who was also a photographer, found it more convenient to capture a scene on film while traveling, and then paint from the photograph when time permitted.

Paris was his base during the 1880s, and there he exhibited his paintings of India at the Salon of 1884, where he received positive recognition, and soon achieved national acclaim.  He continued to make painting expeditions to Persia, Turkey, and India.

As well as being a painter, photographer, and illustrator, Weeks was also a writer. Between 1893 and 1895, illustrated accounts of his many travels appeared in Harpers and Scribners magazines, later appearing in book form as From the Black Sea through Persia and India in 1896.

After the 1890s, not much is known of Weeks work except for  Three Beggars of Cordova, which is at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  It seems to demonstrate a return to his painterly style of the 1879s.  He received much recognition during his international career, and he belonged to several art organizations including the Boston Art Club and the Paris Society of American Painters.


Sources include:
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art, p. 439

Biography from South Coast Fine Art:
Along with George Bridgman, Edwin Lord Weeks is one of the most celebrated of the American Orientalists, this certainly being so during his lifetime, and although quite a lot is recorded concerning his professional career and travels, much of this from his own extensive travel writings, relatively little is known about his private life.

Weeks' parents were affluent spice and tea merchants from Newton, a suburb of Boston and as such they were able to accept, probably encourage, and certainly finance their son's youthful interest in painting and travelling.  As a young man, he visited the Florida Keys to draw and also travelled to Surinam in South America.  His earliest known paintings date from 1867 when he was eighteen years old, although it is not until his Landscape with Blue Heron, dated 1871, and painted in the Everglades, that he started to exhibit a dexterity of technique and eye for composition - presumably having taken professional tuition.

At the age of 21, he is known to have opened a studio in Newton, in the same year marrying Frances Rollins Hale from New Hampshire.  The following year, accompanied by a friend, the illustrator A P Close, he travelled to Egypt, the Holy Land and Syria as far as Damascus.  His sketchbooks from that visit overflow with North African scenes.  However, at Beirut, Close died following a fever and was buried there.  A painting depicting the port of Tangiers dated 1872 survives from this period and appears to be one of the first of his works in the Orientalist style.  During a brief stay in Morocco around this time it is likely that he encountered the Scottish Royal Academician Robert Gavin (1827-1883) who lived and worked in Tangiers during the 1870's.

After Weeks' return to Newton, Boston journals published their description of his new subject matter and also enthusiastically critiqued an exhibition of his works held at the Boston Art Club - early evidence of his increasing stature as an artist, at least in his home town.  The Boston Daily Evening Transcript of 23rd June 1874 announced that he would soon be embarking for Europe and a season in Paris before returning to the Orient to study the magnificent colors found there.

Having arrived in Paris with his wife, Weeks first of all attempted to enroll at the atelier of Gérôme in the École des Beaux-Arts.  However, while waiting for his application to be accepted, he started to work in a private atelier, that of Léon Bonnat, a close friend of Gérôme who had also travelled with him in North Africa. Indeed when he was finally granted admission to Gérome's atelier in September 1874, he was so satisfied with his studies with Bonnat that he decided to stay there and not accept the place offered. Although the Boston journals from then on started to call him "a student of Gérome" in fact he never was and he always referred to himself as a "student of Bonnat". However it is likely that he knew Gérôme socially.

Weeks didn't exhibit again either in America or at the Paris Salon until 1880 and then all his compositions were of Moroccan subjects and the prices asked were those of the best French painters of the time.

In 1883, he travelled to India and, according to his own letters, spent every day painting and every night developing his photographs, which he probably used for recording the architectural details and backgrounds for his compositions.  He was to return again in 1892, commissioned by Harper's Magazine, this time accompanied by the journalist Theodore Child who was to write a series of articles on their travels with illustrations by Weeks.

Foreseeing a daunting overland journey, they planned to set off from St. Petersburg and to take the Transcaspian railway to Samarkand then descending via Herat to Afghanistan - a comfortable journey for the greater part, becoming more adventurous after Samarkand.  However, an outbreak of cholera in the Russian provinces to the north prevented this and, instead, they decided to follow the ancient caravan route from Trebizond on the Black Sea as far as Tabriz and from there across Kurdistan.

He spent two years in India before returning home to Paris.  His paintings of Indian life gave him celebrity both in France and America and they became his speciality. He was able to spend the next thirteen years in a splendid residence with a huge atelier on the Avenue de Wagram before moving nearer to the Bois de Boulogne.

In 1896 he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour and he continued to paint right up to his death in 1903, which is thought to have been due to an illness contracted in India. An obituary notice described him as "a reserved man with a quiet voice and of rather small stature, but virile, kindly and affable.

Source:
"Les Orientalistes de L'École Américaine", Gerald M Ackerman trans. C-M Diebold, ACR Edition, 1994

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