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J Alden Weir

 (1852 - 1919)
J. Alden Weir was active/lived in New York, Connecticut.  J Weir is known for impressionist landscape, portrait, and still life painting.

J. Alden Weir

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Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for J. Alden Weir
The youngest of sixteen children of Robert W. Weir, artist and art instructor at West Point Military Academy, J. Alden Weir became one of the leading early American Impressionists. However, his art education began with training in the traditional basic styles and methods from his father. Throughout his career subject matter included landscape, still lifes, and portraits. Although his landscapes increasingly reflected his adoption of Impressionism, his portraits and still lifes remained more realistic and conservative.

Weir also completed murals including ones in the Liberal Arts Building of the 1893 Chicago Exposition. They received much acclaim, but mural painting was not a specialty for him.

At 18, he enrolled at the National Academy School in New York. From 1873 to 1877, he studied in Europe, part of the time in Paris with Jean Leon Gerome at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. From Gerome, he learned much about classical figure painting and the modeling of forms. Weir also had much admiration for the Old Masters such as Frans Hals and Hans Holbein.

Friendship with Jules Bastien-Lepage, French plein-aire painter, encouraged Weir to work directly from nature, which became a modification of influences of the Beaux Arts training he was receiving at the Ecole. It was also the beginning of his path to Impressionism, although when first exposed to this revolutionary style, he was highly disapproving. Of his first encounter with it at an exhibition in Paris, he wrote home to his parents: "I never in my life saw more horrible things. . . .It was worse than the Chamber of Horrors. . . .I was mad for two or three days, not only having paid the money but for the demoralizing effect it must have....."(Gerdts 105)

However, increasingly painting by Weir reflected this new style, beginning when he and Bastien-Lepage painted outdoors together, concerning themselves with atmospheric light and everyday subject matter such as peasants working in the fields. Another influence was friendship with James MacNeil Whistler, known for his loosening of style and dark tonalities.

In the 1880s Weir focused on still-life painting along with landscape, especially florals in a rather dark palette, which at the time of their creation were counter to his increasing interest in Impressionism. He also was a portrait painter and in 1883, married one of his models, Anna Baker.

After 1883, he had a New York studio at 51 West Tenth Street and supported himself and wife with portrait painting and teaching. He became associated with the first generation of American Impressionists that included Childe Hassam and John Twachtman. He and Twachtman traveled in Holland together and also held joint exhibitions including in 1888 at the Society of Painters in Pastel and the next year at the Fifth Avenue Art Galleries. Weir's entries were still life, figure, and scenes from rural Connecticut, with obvious Barbizon School influence of Lepage and realistic tendencies of Gustave, but nothing that one could describe as Impressionism.

He was part of the founding of the Society of American Artists, which was a rebellion of European-trained American artists against the constraints of those upholding the standards of the National Academy. Weir was a leading figure in the Society and became increasingly influential in promoting leading-edge French paintings including the collection in America of work by his friend Bastien-Lepage and also of Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet.

However, by 1893, exhibited paintings by Weir were being labelled Impressionistic in what was described by one critic as their "rude style of handling" (Gerdts 106) including their casual attention to detail and atmospheric qualities. Between 1893 and 1897, Weir completed factory landscape paintings that were said to reflect his full commitment to Impressionism. His summer home from 1883 was in Windham, Connecticut, and his factory paintings depicted the thread factories of nearby Willimantic, Connecticut. These realistic, industrial subjects were a departure from pervasive serene, often idealized American landscape painting.

Active in art circles, Weir was an organizer of the 1913 Armory Show in New York, which introduced avant-garde European art to the American public, and he was also President of the National Academy of Design from 1915 to 1917.

Five years after his death in 1919, a memorial exhibition of his work was held at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

William Gerdts, "American Impressionism"
Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Art"
Michael Zellman, "300 Years of American Art"

Biography from Spanierman Gallery
Born in West Point, New York Julian Alden Weir received his first art training from his father, Robert W. Weir, who was a professor of drawing at the United States Military Academy.  The younger Weir continued his studies in New York at the National Academy of Design and in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where he worked under the important academic teacher Jean-Léon Gérôme beginning in 1873. Traveling to Holland and Spain during his student years, Weir was inspired by the work of Hals and Velasquez.  However, the major influence on his early career was the French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, who was well known for his realistic depictions of Breton peasants in the outdoor landscape.

On his return to New York in the fall of 1877, Weir supported himself by teaching at the Cooper Union Women's Art School and at the Art Students League.  He was also active in avant-garde artist organizations that began in the late 1870s, helping to found the Society of American Artists and participating in Tile Club excursions with fellow painters, William Merritt Chase, John Henry Twachtman, R. Swain Gifford, and others.  In Europe during the summers of 1880 and 1881, Weir was instrumental in the collector Erwin Davis's purchase of paintings by Bastien-Lepage and Manet which Davis eventually gave to the Metropolitan Museum. After his marriage to Anna Baker in 1883, Weir again went to Europe but was back in New York by September.  During the remainder of his career, he split his time between New York and his farm in Branchville, Connecticut where he painted his finest landscapes. Anna's died in the winter of 1892, following the birth of their third child Cora. In late October of 1893, Weir married her sister Ella Dwight Baker.

Weir's work was widely exhibited beginning in the late 1880s. He was included in a joint exhibition with Twachtman in 1889 in New York at the Ortgies Gallery, and in 1891, a one-man show of his paintings was held at the Blakeslee Gallery also in New York.  His work was paired again with Twachtman's in a comparative exhibition at the American Art Association in 1893, which included paintings by French artists Claude Monet and Paul-Albert Besnard.  Weir was among the founders of the Ten American Painters in 1897 along with Twachtman, Hassam, Tarbell, Benson, and others.

On seeing the third French Impressionist exhibition in 1877, Weir pronounced it a "Chamber of Horrors," but by the 1890s he had abandoned the dark tonalities and the academic manner of his earlier career in favor of the bright pigments of impressionism and an interest in abstract geometric patterns in the landscape, in part influenced by Japanese prints.  Weir was also well known for his evocative and expressive still lifes of flowers, and for his etchings and pastels. Weir experimented throughout his long career, adopting modern styles and concepts but maintaining his individualistic artistic identity.

Weir's works are included in many important private and public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Museum of American Art, Washington, D. C.; the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; the Brooklyn Museum; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Portland Art Museum, Oregon; the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut; Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; the Carnegie Institute, Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the Cincinnati Art Museum, and many others.


© The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC, and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC, nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

Biography from Owen Gallery
Julian Alden Weir was the son of historical painter, Robert W. Weir, who served as the drawing instructor at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York for over forty years. J. Alden was the youngest son in a family of sixteen children. Many of the Weirs were painters, but J. Alden certainly established the career of most renown.

He originally studied painting under his father and later worked in the studio of his brother, John Ferguson Weir, who went on to head the Department of Art at Yale University from 1869 to 1913. J. Alden then studied at the National Academy of Design in New York before traveling to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1873.

Weir returned to the United States late in 1877 and began teaching classes at the Cooper Institute and the Art Students League in New York. In 1882, Weir purchased a farm with several hundred acres of land in Branchville, Connecticut. In 1883, through his wife's family, he acquired another residence in Windham, Connecticut. In 1886, he purchased a house in New York. Weir spent the remainder of his career dividing his time equally between the three homes.

Around 1890 Weir began adopting an Impressionist style, which suited his growing interest in landscape depictions. He was soon considered a leading member of the new Impressionist group of painters emerging in America at that time. In 1898, he became one of the founding members of The Ten, which was a group including Willard Metcalf and Thomas Dewing that rebelled against what they regarded as mediocrity in American art.

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia
Art, family, and home played key roles in the early childhood of Julian Alden Weir, who was one of sixteen children.  His first art teacher was his father, who taught drawing at West Point Military Academy.

As a young man, Weir traveled to Paris and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts with Jean-Léon Gérôme.  Four years later, he returned to the United States and began teaching at the Art Students League in New York.  Weir's art reflected his academic training until the 1880s, when he was drawn to the influence of Impressionism.  His landscapes, which initially revealed his admiration for the Barbizon school, had become distinctly impressionistic by the 1890s.

Initially, Weir's reaction to Impressionism paintings was far from enthusiastic.  After attending an exhibition, he wrote, "I never in my life saw more horrible things... They do not observe drawing or form but give you an impression of what they call nature. It was worse than the Chamber of Horrors. I was there about a quarter of an hour and left with a head ache." (1)

His late conversion to impressionist was encouraged by his friends John Henry Twachtman and Theodore Robinson.  Weir became one of the founding members of Ten American Painters, a group that developed in 1898 in reaction against the restrictive exhibition practices of the Society of American Artists.

In 1882 Weir purchased a large farm in Branchville, Connecticut, where he built his studio.  The farm and its environs served as the artist's primary subject matter for the next thirty years, and it became a favorite gathering place for his circle of friends, which then included Twachtman, Robinson, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent, and others.(2)

Sources include:

1. Dorothy Weir Young, The Life and Letters of J. Alden Weir (New York: Kennedy Graphics, 1971): 123.

2. For additional biographical information, see Doreen Bolger Burke, J. Alden Weir: An American Impressionist. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983.

Submitted by Staff, Columbus Museum

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About  J. Alden Weir

Born:  1852 - West Point, New York
Died:   1919 - New York City
Known for:  impressionist landscape, portrait, and still life painting