Date of this Version
University of Nebraska Art Galleries November 7 through December 3, 1967
J ALDEN WEIR 1852-1919
Julian AIden Weir, his daughter tells us, "grew up in the highlands of the Hudson Valley, and the world of nature remained at the center of his art and his life . . .. The road from the valley of the Hudson to the rolling hills of Connecticut, where he finally settled, led him through Paris and London, Brittany, the Low Countries, and Spain; and his professional life centered in the city of New York. But his heart was bound up with the quiet rhythms of the land, with his family and his friends."
That puts it quite precisely. Weir, born in 1852, grew up in the Hudson Valley because his father was for nearly half a century professor of drawing at the United States Military Academy. From the beginning his father, himself a creditable landscape and history painter, encouraged his aspirations as an artist-as indeed he did that of an older son, John, who was to make his mark primarily as a distinguished teacher-administrator in the Yale School of Fine Arts. Julian was given diligent training in the craft of painting and in due season sent off to the school of the National Academy of Design.
New York proved to be only a station on the way to Paris: in September, 1873, a few days after attaining his majority, he sailed for France to enroll in the :Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His choice of atelier-Gerome's-was that of many Americans of his day, and he never regretted the choice. If he subsequently conceded the weakness of Gerome's painting, he steadfastly praised the skill and soundness of his instruction and the beneficent impact of his personality. It was at the Beaux-Arts that he encountered the incandescent Bastien-Lepage, one of his youthful admirations, and made the acquaintance of John H. Twachtman, fresh from his studies in Munich. With the latter he formed a friendship which, strengthened by a sketching trip they took through Holland, lasted until Twachtman's death.
These student days in Paris were happy ones for Weir, as his letters home, so full of verbal pictures and heady enthusiasms, do attest. He pushed beyond the limits of his first-year excursions, beyond Barbizon and Brittany to the Netherlands (1874) and Spain (1876); he savored the acquaintance, sometimes intimate, sometimes casual, of masters old and new. His special admiration among the former went to those seventeenth century masters of painterly breadth and insightful statement (Hals, Rembrandt, Velasquez) whose impressionistic tendencies he later found confirmed in contemporaries such as Manet, Whistler, and Sargent. Whistler, who had once been a pupil of his father at West Point, he sought out in London in 1877, and the friendship there initiated, like that with Sargent, was lifelong.