DescriptionJULIAN ONDERDONK (1882-1922)
The Wood Gatherers
Oil on canvas
25in. x 30in.
Signed lower left
In this tour-de-force Texas landscape painting, Julian Onderdonk pays homage to and links the great tradition of the Barbizon School landscape painters with the then-emerging tradition of Texas landscape painting.
In the mid-1800s, a group of young French artists, the so-called Barbizon School, struggling to obtain recognition in the Paris salons, abandoned accepted academic tradition and began to paint the landscape plein-air. They retreated from the center of the art universe -- Paris -- to the forest of Fontainebleau to paint a romantic vision of the landscape where the seasonal rhythms of nature -- flora, fauna, and the common man -- existed in an idyllic harmony.
Similar to the Barbizon masters, Julian Onderdonk retreated from the artist hub of the nation -- in this case, New York City -- to his "Fontainebleau," the environs of Central Texas. It was in San Antonio and the Hill Country of Texas that Onderdonk became the father of a new Texas landscape painting tradition, which embraced the often wild, barren, and desolate Texas landscape. In Onderdonk's world, the lonely prickly pear, a scourge to farmers and ranchers, became an object of beauty; the comparatively barren Texas landscape became a "garden of eden" as the spring rains caused indigenous wildflowers to bloom.
A decidedly Barbizon theme, The Wood Gatherers draws on the tradition of Corot and Millet, each of whom painted works with the same title. Far from copying Corot or Millet, Onderdonk borrows the theme of the peasant gleaning from the land. In this painting, Onderdonk creates a romantic treatment of the Texas landscape, respecting the traditions of the Barbizon, the French Impressionists, and the latest traditions of American landscape painting, exemplified by the Old Lyme School. The French peasant becomes the Hispanic woman and her son. The ox cart becomes the donkey cart loaded with gleaned mesquite and oak. Julian Onderdonk takes his own environs, a dry and dusty land loaded with prickly pear cactus, and finds the underlying beauty. He returns to Texas from New York to paint what he knows, his own land, a feat the Regionalist painters of the so-called Dallas Nine will repeat a generation later.
Suffused with light, shadow, and impastoed texture, the work is a virtuoso performance in paint. One can feel the bright, almost inescapable light. The two diminutive figures reinforce the "bigness" of Texas's land and sky....and yes, the sky, the sky, Onderdonk's big blue sky and clouds.
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