DescriptionJULIAN ONDERDONK (American, 1882-1922)
On the Old Blanco Road, Southwest Texas, 1911
Oil on canvas
30 x 25 inches (76.2 x 63.5 cm)
Signed and dated lower left: Julian Onderdonk - 1911 -
Titled, signed, and dated verso: Noon on the Blanco Road - / Southwest Texas. / - Julian Onderdonk 1911 -
In 1909, after studying art in New York for eight years, Julian Onderdonk returned to Texas. During the
following thirteen years, before his tragic death in 1922, Julian would paint the Texas landscape with a
skill and sensitivity few, if any, artists have equaled. The particularly high quality of his paintings during
this period is partly due to the formal training he received while attending the Art Student League of New
York. It was there that he began taking classes from William Merritt Chase and later attended Chase's
summer art school at Shinnecock, New York. Chase's formal influence helped Julian refine his work and
further develop his own brand of American Impressionism, largely inspired by the beauty and grandeur
of the Texas landscape.
Chase is considered by many to be the most important American art teacher of his generation; some of
his most famous students include Georgia O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, and Edward Hopper, to name a
few. Chase began influencing Julian's work long before the two met. Julian's father and artist, Robert J.
Onderdonk, helped found the Art Student League of New York and studied art with Chase during his last
year there. Robert eventually settled in San Antonio, Texas and started a family. When Julian was sixteen
years old Robert officially became his first art teacher, passing many of the lessons he learned from Chase
on to his son long before Julian ever left Texas.
Julian often embraced other styles popular during this period, especially Realism and Tonalism. Elements
of Realism are evident in most of his landscapes, a product of his lifelong obsession with the natural
world of Texas. His sister and fellow artist, Eleanor once wrote, "It is impossible to look at any of
Julian's paintings and not see the man who looked at nature with wide-open eyes, analyzed, studied
and then created." Additionally, many of Julian's paintings show the influence of the earlier Barbizon
movement in France and the United States, exemplified by the later paintings of George Inness and the
contemporaneous movement dubbed "Tonalism." While the foundation of his style is firmly rooted in
Impressionism, at least some Tonalist elements can be found in a great deal of Julian's paintings. Indeed,
some resemble the landscapes of Inness more than those of Chase.
On the Old Blanco Road, Southwest, Texas, 1911 represents Julian in full Impressionist mode,
depicting the rich colors of the Texas Hill Country in late afternoon. By choosing this time of day, Julian
could work with a more vivid palette and include striking shadows like the one that dominates the
foreground of the painting, creating a sense of drama inherent to the Texas landscape. It is painted in
an impressionistic style, using thick applications of paint and visible brushwork. Julian uses the varying
brushstrokes to build up surface texture in order to illustrate his interpretation of the landscape, not to
recreate a perfect rendering of the view. The human figures are vivid and eye catching, yet on closer
inspection, they are still little more than thick daubs of paint with almost no detail. This ability to convey
the essence of a landscape or figure through the expressive handling of the paint is a hallmark of a great
Impressionist painter. When immersed in Old Blanco Road, one can taste the dust of the road and feel
the heat of the scorching sun.
Julian's Impressionist landscapes of bluebonnets 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. Julian Onderdonk is often categorized as a Texas artist because of the popularity of his breathtaking
paintings of the Texas Hill Country, especially those that include bluebonnets, but these five paintings show
that definition is far too narrow. As the demand for his work grows, both inside and outside of Texas, they are
increasingly being recognized as important examples of American Impressionism which transcend any regional
More information about JULIAN ONDERDONK, also known as Onderdonk, Julian, Julian Onderdonk.
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