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Robert Weir

 (1803 - 1889)
Robert Walter Weir was active/lived in New York.  Robert Weir is known for genre, portrait, history and landscape painting, teaching.

Robert Weir

    WEER  speaker-click to hear pronunciation  click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Robert Weir
Born in New York City, Robert Weir became more recognized for his teaching of art than his own paintings. As a youngster, he was befriended by painter John Wesley Jarvis and also received instruction from Robert Cooke, an English heraldic* artist. When he was a teenager, Weir's painting was so remarkable that his canvases sold in New York as the work of the Old Masters*.

From 1824 to 1827, he studied in Italy and in 1825 he worked with Pietro Benvenuti in Florence. Later he moved to Rome, where he lived with Horatio Greenough.

Returning to New York he set up his own studio. In 1834, he began a 42-year teaching career at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and his pupils included Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E Lee, and James Whistler as well as his own sons, John Ferguson and Julian Alden Weir.

He painted subjects from the novels of James Fennimore Cooper and Washington Irving as well as portraits and historical topics. In the mid-1930s, he painted his large Embarkation of the Pilgrims from Delft Haven, in Holland, which was installed in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in 1843.

During the half century that Weir was most active in religious painting, other American artists showed little interest in painting religious subjects. Consequently, few paintings of the nature were exhibited at the American Academy of Fine Arts, the American Art-Union, or the National Academy of Design.

Weir is believed to have been a "leading practitioner of the religious genre in America during the years 1830 to 1880, when Biblical subjects were unpopular with both artists and patrons.

"Weir was essentially an academic painter who continually attempted to associate himself with the European artistic traditions from the Renaissance to his own time, as his religious paintings demonstrate."

Kent Ahrens, "The Religious Paintings of Robert Walter Weir," Antiques, April 1973

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Robert Weir
NOTE from Richard Carlson, a member of St. Clements Episcopal Church in St. Paul, MN.

"We have a Tiffany window in our church titled Morning After The Crucifixion. The model for this window was a painting of the same title by Robert Walter Weir that once hung in St. Clements church in New York City. When St. Clements NYC moved to a new location in 1910, the painting was put in storage and ultimately given in lieu of payment for past due storage fees.

"This came from a short history of St. Clements Church NYC written by the Rector, Theodore A. Eaton in 1881. .'.....the very suggestive and much admired Painting or Altar Piece, representing the scene on Calvary, just after the removal of our Savior's sacred Body from the Cross. It is the work of eminent artist, and venerable professor Robert W. Weir, and is a memorial of the first Rector and his wife, the father and mother of the wife of the artist.....' "

Biography from The Johnson Collection
Robert Walter Weir, a native of New Rochelle, New York, taught himself to paint by making copies of Rembrandt prints. He pursued formal study in Italy from 1824 to 1827, working first in Florence with Pietro Benvenuti. It was there that Weir, a devout man who viewed art as a means of inspiring the faithful, created his first religious works, Christ and Nicodemus and The Angel Relieving Peter. Weir moved on to Rome where he shared rooms with the sculptor Horatio Greenough before returning to America.

Settling in New York, Weir opened a studio and was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1829. As Professor of Drawing at the United States Military Academy beginning in 1834, his students included Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Seth Eastman and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. His 1836 mural in the West Point chapel, Peace and War, may have helped secure the artist's commission to paint a large mural for one of the four blank panels in the Capitol rotunda. That work, Embarkation of the Pilgrims, was completed in the summer of 1843 and installed in the Capitol in December of that year. From 1843 to 1876, Weir was active as a painter of landscape art in the Hudson River style (Church of the Holy Innocents, Highland Falls, West Point); as a portraitist (Robert E. Lee and General Winfield Scott); as a history painter (Landing of Henry Hudson); and as a genre painter (St. Nicholas, the prototype for much of the subsequent Santa Claus iconography). The father of the artists John Ferguson Weir and Julian Alden Weir, he suffered a severe illness in 1866, slowing the pace of his career.

Weir's own reverence informs this deathbed image of the eminent Kentucky statesman Henry Clay. Drawing on contemporary newspaper reports of Clay's last days in May 1852, the artist has depicted Dr. Clement Moore Butler, chaplain of the Senate, visiting the senator in order to administer the Eucharist. In a scene rich with Gothic images and reflective of Weir's mastery of the light of the Hudson River school, Clay—suffering the malignant effects of both tuberculosis and extended political strife—is presented in pious submission to imminent death. The first person to lie in state in the United States Capitol, Clay's remains were ultimately returned to Lexington, Kentucky. There, his grave is marked by a headstone that reads, "I know no North, no South, no East, no West."

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

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About  Robert Weir

Born:  1803 - New York City
Died:   1889 - New York City
Known for:  genre, portrait, history and landscape painting, teaching