Julian Alden Weir
“Worse than a Chamber of Horrors, it left me with a headache.” Pithy words from an artist credited with being a central figure in creating American Impressionism, after seeing the Third Impressionist Exhibition in Paris in 1877. Weir was possibly the only American artist to see one of the original Impressionist exhibitions. Debating the considerable differences between French Impressionism and the American counterpart is not my intent, but my realization that J. Alden Weir favored the works of Millet and Bastien-Lepage over the French Impressionists and admired the illusive, suggestive aspects of Whistler and Twachtman. Weir described himself as a “dreamer” and was neither by temperament nor training a colorist. He held in theory and practice sound drawing skills in the highest regard. These observations do not describe an ardent follower of Impressionism,2 but they actually helped me greatly in appreciating the watercolor figure example I acquired in 2006. The writer/scholar Nicolai Cikovsky Jr. observed that Weir was one of the consistently best figure painters, one of the best still life painters, and a superb print maker and watercolorist—and in all these elements of his oeuvre he neither relied upon nor needed Impressionism. Yet the ever curious, ever experimental Weir became smitten by the technique of Impressionism, calling it “a truth which I never before felt,”3 when he began painting landscapes. He concluded all his prior learning and practice were inappropriate for landscape painting, but Impressionism was perfect for depicting landscape, especially his beloved farm in Branchville. I had never been a student of Weir’s work, candidly finding it timid, for precisely the simplistic reason Cikovsky describes; I held it up to bolder, perhaps purer uses of Impressionism as the yardstick. In this case, astute, provocative scholarship helped sort out my personal conceptions of J. Alden Weir. Since the delicate watercolor of a young lady (perhaps his wife, Anna Baker) was exhibited at the Whitney Museum in 1942, it implies that others had a better informed perspective than I. I’m glad.