Friday, January 6, 2012

The Weir Family: American Artists

"Saint Nicholas" painting by Robert Weir, 1837

Robert Weir was a member of the Knickerbocker Society in New York, which promoted the Dutch heritage of many of New York's settlers.  Here, he painted "St. Nicholas," New York's patron saint.

I confess the American art family I am most familiar with is the Wyeth family.  I was not acquainted with the lives and works of the Weir family until I went to this exhibit currently at the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University.  "The Weir Family, 1820-1920:  Expanding the Traditions of American Art" opened at the MOA in November, and will continue through May 19, 2012.  The exhibit features works from Robert Weir, two of his sons, and a granddaughter (Dorothy).  

"At the Water Trough"  by J. Alden Weir, 1876-77

Robert Weir was one of the first American artists to study in Italy.  In later years, his sons, John Ferguson and Julian Alden Weir also traveled back and forth to Europe to study art and to paint.  Julian, who went by J. Alden in his career, returned to the US and founded the art department at Yale University.

Three paintings by members of the Weir family.

Robert painted scenes from American history, and many portraits.  He was a faculty member at West Point, and some of his paintings of the Hudson River are in this exhibit.  Robert was also a member of the Hudson River School of artists.  John Ferguson Weir painted in a very traditional style, and was nicknamed "The Old Master" by his contemporaries.  J. Alden, by comparison, began with traditional paintings, but in this exhibit, you can see his style evolve into Impressionism.

"The Grand Canal - Venice" by John Weir, 1869

I think John Weir's painting of the Grand Canal in Venice was my favorite in this exhibit, but I admit that may be in part because of subject matter.  I do, however, also love the warm lighting and mood of the painting as well.  

If you get the chance to go see this exhibit, make sure you see "U.S. Volunteer Militia" (1840-45) by Robert Weir.  This humorous scene of military life is a departure from his more typical, traditional style.  I also loved "The Christmas Bell" painted by John Ferguson Weir in 1866.  John Weir painted five versions of that painting, as it was quite popular.  The painting depicts a bell surrounded by fairies has a magical feel.  "His Favorite Model," also by John Weir, shows an artist interacting with the wooden mannequin in his studio, and seems to me to invite you in to watch the scene.  These "story-telling" pieces were some of my favorites in the exhibit.  This wonderfully curated exhibit will travel to the New Britain Museum of American Art for the summer, and then on to the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina in the fall.

"His Favorite Model" by John Ferguson Weir, 188- 

If you go:  admission to BYU's Museum of Art is free. There is usually ample visitor parking in the lot east of the museum.  The museum is open Monday - Wednesday from 10am to 6pm, Thursday -  Friday from 10am to 9pm, and Saturdays from 10am to 6pm.  It is closed on Sundays and select holidays.


  1. Thanks for posting this Amy. I’m frequently doing research online about Weir, which brought me to your blog.

    I am a Visiting Artist at Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut, where J. Alden Weir had his home, farm and studio. Several of his contemporaries like John Singer Sargent, Albert Pinkham Ryder and John Twachtman visited the farm, were inspired by the landscape and painted there too. It remains a destination where artists go to get inspired and supported. The park offers an Artist-in-Residence program with Weir Farm Art Center. Their websites are and

    The park’s three key historic buildings – J. Alden Weir’s house and studio and Mahonri Young’s studio – are empty for the first time in at least 140 years as they undergo a major rehabilitation and restoration by the National Park Service. The buildings are closed to the public and are unlikely to be in a vacant state again. So the park had me create an artistic photographic collection documenting these ethereal spaces.

    Some of the photographs are on display at Weir Farm until May 31, 2012 and will be seen elsewhere as a traveling exhibit. More information is available at my website – – where the entire collection can also be seen. Free souvenir prints are available at my website too.

    1. I am glad you found my blog. Thanks for the additional information about J. Alden Weir and his farm in Connecticut. I am glad they had someone document the farm through photography. I appreciate your comments.