DescriptionJULIAN ONDERDONK (American, 1882-1922)
Bluebonnets at Sunrise, 1917
Oil on artist's board
9 x 12 inches (22.9 x 30.5 cm)
Signed lower left: Julian Onderdonk
Titled, signed, and dated verso: Blue-Bonnets at Sunrise / San Antonio, Texas / Julian Onderdonk / 1917
Artist's notes in ink verso:
"This picture should be
varnished in October or Nov 1917 -
notify me and I will attend to it.
Julian Onderdonk 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 Shinecock, 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.
Bluebonnets at Sunrise has the quality of light and atmosphere found in Onderdonk's beautiful depictions of bluebonnets blanketed in mist as dawn begins to glow on the horizon. However, the most interesting feature about this particular painting, especially to scholars and serious collectors, is one of the inscriptions on the back. In addition to the signature, date, and title, Onderdonk wrote, "this painting should be varnished in October or Nov 1917-notify me and I will attend to it. J. Onderdonk." This inscription offers insight into his methods and business practices. The client must have wanted to take the painting home while it was still wet, and, because it is painted with such wonderful impasto, it would take some time for the oil to completely dry so the varnish could be applied. The story told by this inscription corroborates other sources that reveal the high demand Onderdonk found for his paintings of this iconic Texas wildflower. Indeed, if this painting is any indication then the painting seemed to have flown off the walls almost as soon as he put down his brush.
TEXAS IMPRESSIONISM AND THE BLUEBONNET
The life of Julian Onderdonk (1882-1922) 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 [see lots 67036 and 67037]--Impressionist landscapes kept Texas in the national avant-garde mix until the former's untimely death.
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, enamored 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. And when President Lyndon B. Johnson hung the works of San Antonio painter Porfirio Salinas [see lot 67043] in the White House, bluebonnet painting reached a national stage. Salinas and his mentor Robert Wood [see lots 67052-67057] subsequently helped push central Texas and Hill Country landscapes to their current place at the top of juste milieu painting in Texas today.
Michael R. Grauer
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