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.
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