Robert Jenkins Onderdonk (American, 1853-1917) ...Click the image to load the highest resolution version.
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DescriptionRobert Jenkins Onderdonk (American, 1853-1917)
The Afternoon Walk
Hand painted porcelain tile
39-3/8 x 55-1/8 inches (100.0 x 140.0 cm)
Signed lower left: R. J. Onderdonk
Private collection, Atlanta, Georgia.
A native of Maryland, Robert Jenkins Onderdonk (1852-1917) studied at the National Academy of Design in New York. The following year (1875) Onderdonk and several other students broke away from the NAD to form the more liberal Art Students League. Robert Onderdonk came to San Antonio in 1879 hoping to paint portraits of wealthy Texans, but commissions were few and he turned to teaching. Yet, by the early 1880s "activity and interest in the art field in San Antonio were...greatly stimulated by [Onderdonk's] presence in the city."i Consequently, in 1886 he helped found the Van Dyke Art Club, the first formal art organization in San Antonio. Robert Onderdonk moved to Dallas from 1889 to 1895, where he painted portraits, taught classes out of his studio on Elm Street, and headed the newly-founded Dallas Art Students League. Onderdonk and his students exhibited their work at the State Fair of Texas where he received medals for his oil and watercolor paintings in 1893. While his wife and children had joined him in Dallas in 1890, his father-in-law's health called his wife back to San Antonio. Emily Gould Onderdonk and their children, including young Julian, returned there in early 1894. Onderdonk completed his contract with the Art Students League of Dallas in July 1895 and moved back to San Antonio.
Still, portrait commissions in the Alamo City remained scarce and Onderdonk painted landscapes and genre scenes and taught art to support his family. While impressionism had arrived in Texas with an exhibition in Dickinson in 1896, Robert Onderdonk's contributions to Texas Impressionism are largely transitional. While he painted en plein air, his palette and brushwork remained somewhat conventional. His strategies are quite consistent with the subtle colors and paint handling of pre-impressionists in the United States such as American Barbizon painter George Inness and Tonalist Bruce Crane.
Onderdonk took this approach with him in 1898–99 when he worked as a commercial tile painter in St. Louis for Johannes Schumacher, as seen in The Afternoon Walk. The Arts and Crafts movement resurrected tile painting as part of its overall aesthetic mission to restore hand-crafting of decorative arts in society. Hand-painted tiles, using strictly decorative motifs or assembled into landscapes or genres scenes, became quite popular at the turn of the last century. Schumacher manufactured "X-Rays China Colors" but Onderdonk reportedly disliked this work, especially since Schumacher expected him to paint Western scenes.ii The Afternoon Walk harkens to Onderdonk's days as a plein-air painter with William Merritt Chase in New York and presages the work of his son Julian in New York as well. Moreover, given its sensitivity and size, The Afternoon Walk is a tour-de-force of American Arts and Crafts tile painting.
Robert Onderdonk returned to Texas in 1899 to serve as a judge in the art department of the State Fair. By 1900 he was back in San Antonio with his family, teaching and painting. Despite at least one major commission, The Fall of the Alamo (1901), his major impact on the community remained that of a teacher and popularizer of art. He participated in the founding of several art-related organizations, including the Fifty-two Club in 1908 and the Brass Mug Club and the San Antonio Art League in 1912. He remained a beloved member of the burgeoning art community in San Antonio until his death, best remembered as an inspiring teacher. Nevertheless, Robert Onderdonk completed a number of important paintings as part of the early Texas art lexicon, including The Afternoon Walk.
i Cecilia Steinfeldt, The Onderdonks: A Family of Texas Painters (San Antonio: Trinity University Press): 19.
ii William Keyse Rudolph, Julian Onderdonk: American Impressionist, (Dallas Museum of Art Yale University Press New Haven and London catalogue 2008): 144-149.
Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000.
Framed Dimensions 44 X 60 Inches
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