Charting Weir’s Artistic Evolution
by Kristin Nord
Julian Alden Weir’s art was shaped, according to collector Duncan Phillips, by a “reticent idealism,” while at the same time reflecting a wide-ranging, inquiring mind.
“Home is the starting place,” said Weir, and for four decades he made this “quiet little house among the rocks,” now the Weir Farm National Historic Site, one of two main summer homes. After marriage into the Baker family in Windham, he split his summer months between the farm in Western Connecticut and the Baker farm in what is known as Connecticut’s “Quiet Corner.”
Reared in a large, artistic household, he was the youngest son of Robert W. Weir, longtime drawing instructor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Like his older brother John Ferguson Weir, a painter who was the director at the Yale School of Art for 40 years, J. Alden Weir was trained by his father before studying at the National Academy of Design in Paris. Subsequent studies and travels enabled him to soak up a variety of further artistic influences.
In 1882, just as he was about to build a country retreat in the Adirondacks, he was offered a 153-acre farm in Branchville (straddling the Ridgef ield-Wi l ton line) in exchange for a painting he owned. Soon the artist proved to be to be an inveterate experimenter, seeking ways to best express his personal response to nature. Weir had initially denounced Impressionism, but by 1891 had come around, writing to his brother that he found in the style, “a truth that I never felt before.” Embracing a palette of soft blues, greens, silvery grays and pale yellow, “Weir’s countryside was intimate rather than panoramic, simple rather than monumental.”
He wrote, “I do not care much for subjects that other people like.” Thus, he picked out a brush pile, toppled trees, old fences, ravines or wild flowers, and eschewed what he called “hollyhocking” — the impulse to prettify the landscape.