DescriptionJulian Onderdonk (American, 1882-1922)
Bluebonnets in Spring
Oil on canvas
12 x 16 inches (30.5 x 40.6 cm)
Signed lower left: Julian Onderdonk
Mrs. Leroy R. Munger, Dallas;
Mr. & Mrs. Jack Munger, Dallas, by descent from the above;
Mrs. Marilyn Munger Watson, Dallas, by descent from the above.
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. Julian's father and artist, Robert J. Onderdonk, helped found the Art Student League of New York and studied under William Merritt Chase during his last year there. Robert eventually settled in San Antonio and started a family. When Julian was sixteen years old Robert officially became his first art teacher. The quality of Julian's work 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 Chase and later attended Chase's summer art school at Shinnecock, New York. These formative influences 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.
In addition to Impressionism, Julian found inspiration in many styles, 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 and Realist elements can be found in a great deal of Julian's paintings.
Like other Impressionists, Julian was fascinated by the atmospheric conditions found during different seasons, weather conditions, and times of day, particularly early morning in the Texas Hill Country. In such paintings, he combines Impressionism and Tonalism with his own special brand of Realism in order to immortalize the land he loved so much by invoking a strong emotional response from the viewer. His own passion for the land of Texas cannot be doubted. He once wrote:
"San Antonio offers an inexhaustible field for the artist. Nowhere else are the
atmospheric effects more varied and more beautiful. One never tires of watching
them. Nowhere else is there such a wealth of color. In the spring, when the wild
flowers are in bloom, it is riotous: every tint, every hue, every shade is present in the
most lavish profusion, and even in the dead of summer, when one would imagine that
any canvas could only convey the impression of intense heat, the possibilities of the
landscape are still beyond comprehension. One has only to see it properly to find that
everything glows with a wonderful golden tint which is the delight and the despair of
all who have ever tried to paint it."
Texas Landscape with Bluebonnets proves Julian had little reason to despair. Much like Claude Monet's haystacks, Julian returns continuously to the same subject but creates a different painting each time. This is evident in the other landscapes by Julian Onderdonk being offered in this auction. Instead of the apprehension created by the stormy sky of Texas Landscape with Bluebonnets, Bluebonnets in Spring shows the countryside bathed in the warm light of dawn; Bluebonnets in the Misty Morning's pre-dawn light and atmosphere give the painting a dreamlike quality; and in Winter Twilight, Southwest Texas Julian recreates the desolate winter landscape of West Texas in a composition reminiscent of William Merritt Chase and other American impressionists.
Julian's bluebonnet paintings were wildly popular during his lifetime. They inspired the Texas Wildflower exhibitions in San Antonio from 1927 to 1929. This ultimately gave rise to the ubiquitous "Bluebonnet School," which is still prevalent in Texas today, but no other artist has been able to capture the indefinable magic of his interpretations of the Texas landscape. Julian Onderdonk is often categorized as a Texas artist because of the popularity of his breathtaking paintings of the Texas Hill Country but these four paintings show that definition is far too narrow. As the demand for his work grows, both inside and outside of Texas, his paintings are increasingly being recognized as important examples of American Impressionism which transcend any regional classification.
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