Saturday 25 August 2012

Julian Onderdonk - part 1

Julian Onderdonk (1882 – 1922) was a native of San Antonio and the son of the artist Robert Jenkins Onderdonk. In 1901, at the age of nineteen, he moved to New York City and attended several art schools. He then studied plein-air painting with William Merritt Chase at his summer school in Shinnecock, New York. After returning home to Texas in 1909, Onderdonk enjoyed considerable success during his lifetime. He became best known for his paintings of bluebonnets, but he also loved to depict the Texas Hill Country in all its incarnations. Unfortunately, he suffered an early death at the age of forty. In 2008, the Dallas Museum of Art held an exhibition entitled "Bluebonnets and Beyond: Julian Onderdonk, American Impressionist," which has further established his work as the most admired and sought-after of the early Texas artists.

The life of Julian Onderdonk almost perfectly brackets the Impressionist movement in the United States: "The period from about 1885 to 1920 constitutes the years of [Impressionism's] ascendancy [in the United States] and the achievements and innovations of the principal American masters of the movement," writes William H. Gerdts, a leading authority on American Impressionism. One of the "principal masters" was Onderdonk's mentor, William Merritt Chase (1849 - 1916), with whom Onderdonk studied in the Shinnecock Hills on Long Island by 1900. Chase provided the younger Onderdonk with the tools to paint the south-central Texas landscape in the Impressionist style. Onderdonk's and Frank Reaugh's Impressionist landscapes kept Texas in the national avant-garde mix until the former's untimely death.

Frank Reaugh "Untitled" 
oil on canvas

Moreover, Robert and Julian Onderdonk's and Frank Reaugh's work in assembling the art exhibitions for the State Fair of Texas before 1920, heavily influenced art taste in Texas. Their peers in New York, Boston, Saint Louis, and Chicago, nearly all practitioners of the Impressionist aesthetic were firmly entrenched this type painting in the Texas art fabric for at least another decade.

Julian Onderdonk's Impressionist landscapes certainly inspired exhibitions of paintings of Texas wildflowers in San Antonio from 1927 to 1929, and ultimately gave rise to the ubiquitous "Bluebonnet School," prevalent in Texas even today. In turn, San Antonio reached its zenith as the center for Texas art during this period as the lucrative prize monies offered by the San Antonio Competitive Exhibitions drew artists from other parts of the United States and native-Texan talent blossomed.

The San Antonio Art League sponsored the exhibitions, first called the Texas Wildflower Competitive Exhibition, which revealed "the great possibilities of art in Texas." Wealthy oil man Edgar B. Davis of Luling, enamoured of the state's wildflowers, sponsored the exhibitions, which not only popularized the "Bluebonnet school," but also helped make the flower a state symbol. Ironically, and perhaps paradoxically, Julian Onderdonk wasn't around to see their success.

When President Lyndon B. Johnson hung the works of San Antonio painter Porfirio Salinas in the White House, bluebonnet painting reached a national stage. Salinas and his mentor Robert Wood subsequently helped push central Texas and Hill Country landscapes to their current place at the top of "juste milieu" painting in Texas today.

Porfirio Salinas "Springtime in Texas" 
oil on canvas 63.5 x 76.2 cm

Julian Onderdonk died in October 1922 after a brief illness. At the time of his death, five of his works were on the way to New York to be exhibited at the Howard Young Galleries. He also had commissions ahead to the value of $20,000, a tremendous sum in 1922.

This is part 1 of a 2-part post on the works of Julian Onderdonk:

1901 Springtime 
oil on canvas 66 x 91.4 cm

1902 View of City Rooftops in Winter 
oil on canvas 39.4 x 55.9 cm

1903 Arrochar Park, Staten Island 
oil on board 29.2 x 21.6 cm

1908 East Loyal Field, New York 
oil on canvas 49.5 x 75.2 cm

1909 Autumn Birches, Central Park 
oil on panel 15.2 x 22.9 cm

1909 Fall Scene near Sisterdale 
oil on canvas 49.5 x 74.9 cm

1910 On The San Antonio River 
oil on canvas 50.8 x 40.1 cm

1910 San Antonio River 
oil on canvas 40.6 x 50.8 cm

1910 Sunlight and Shadow 
oil on canvas 40.6 x 61 cm

1911 A Winter Morning on the Guadalupe River 
oil on canvas 64.1 x 76.8 cm

1911 Golden Evening, Southwest Texas 
oil on canvas 30.5 x 45.7 cm

1911 Hill Country Lane 
oil on canvas 63.5 x 77.5 cm

1911 October Sunlight 
oil on canvas 22.9 x 30.5 cm

c1911-13 Spring Morning 
oil on canvas 50.8 x 76.2 cm

c1911-13 Morning in Spring 
oil on canvas 76.2 x 101.6 cm

1912 Bluebonnet Field 
oil on canvas 50.8 x 76.2 cm

1912 Hudson River View 
oil on canvas 45.7 x 30.5 cm

1912 Moonlight in South Texas 
oil on canvas 76.2 x 91.4 cm

1913 A Spring Morning, Bluebonnets, San Antonio 
oil on canvas 76.2 x 101.1 cm
1913 Sunlit Hillside 
oil on canvas 40.6 x 61 cm

1914 On the Guadalupe 
oil on canvas 20.3 x 24.8 cm

1915 Blue Bonnets at Late Afternoon 
oil on canvas 25.4 x 35.6 cm

1915 Bluebonnets in Texas 
oil on canvas 108.3 x 138.8 cm

1915 Cactus in Bloom 
oil on canvas 30.5 x 40.6 cm

1915 Live Oak Trees On Williams' Ranch, Bandera County 
oil on canvas 30.5 x 40.6 cm

c1915 Morning in the Live Oaks, Boerne, Texas 
oil on canvasboard 30.5 x 40.6 cm

c1917 In the Hills of the Spanish Oaks

1918 A Cloudy Day, Bluebonnets near San Antonio, Texas 
oil on canvas 63.8 x 76.5 cm

1918 Bluebonnets at Late Afternoon, near La Grange, Texas 
oil on canvas 50.8 x 76.2 cm

c1918 Near San Antonio 
oil on canvas 76.2 x 101.6 cm

1919-20 Bluebonnets at Twilight, near San Antonio 
oil on canvas 50.8 x 76.2 cm


  1. Why was I surprised that there was an impressionist school in Texas in the early 20th century? Well, I was and am so pleased to look at and read about these works and the artist. Just lovely!

    Thanks Poul!

  2. Thank you for looking, and for your comment - always welcome.

  3. Thank you for sharing these outstanding paintings by this vibrant artist!

  4. Hi, if you know how I find your blog, you would know how much I appreciate Onderdonk's painting. Someone introduced his blue bonnet series on a Chinese art forum, six or seven months ago. I can't help keep thinking of the it after the glance, and felt very regret I didn't copy the link or write about it in my diary. I guess that's the power of art. Tonight I spent whole hour searching him ( took so long mainly because I first tried Chinese key words). Anyway thank you for introducing him. The way he expressed just as fresh as current.

  5. Glad you found my post. Thank you for looking.


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