Julian Onderdonk

Julian Onderdonk
The influence of French Impressionism spread out in waves from the original movement’s epicenter in Paris. Some of the waves beached in various parts of the U.S., where artists who later came to be known as American Impressionists began adopting elements of the style — first in the northeast, then somewhat later in California.

There were more isolated ripples in other areas as well. In Texas, painter and teacher Robert Jenkins Onderdonk traveled to New York in the mid 19th century to study with American painter William Merritt Chase.

His son, Robert Julian Onderdonk, also studied with Chase later in the New York painter’s career, and took his Impressionist influences much more completely into his own style and ran with them, going on to produce vibrantly colorful paintings of the Texas landscape.

While his father’s interest had been in Chase’s reputation as a portrait painter, Julian Onderdonk more enthusiastically adopted Chase’s alla prima approach and practice of plein air landscape painting, capturing the light of the day directly onto his canvas.

After painting in New York for a time, he returned to Texas and established himself as a painter and teacher, to some extent in his father’s footsteps.

Julian Onderdonk particularly became known for his landscapes of fields of Texas bluebonnets in bloom, and is considered one of Texas’ most important artists.

My impression (if you’ll excuse the word) is that his reputation as a painter of bluebonnets has distracted from his general work as a landscape painter.

He is sometimes mentioned with Granville Redmond, a California Impressionist who made a more dedicated practice of painting fields of wildflowers, and Onderdonk’s fame as “The Bluebonnet Painter” (which he hated), has been reinforced by generations of lesser painters who have devoted their careers to painting fields of the Texas state flower.

I also think that Onderdonk has been unfairly overlooked in discussions of American Impressionism, which tend to focus on the art colonies on the two coasts.

There is a collection of his work, Julian Onderdonk: American Impressionist, that I believe is out of print but available used.


8 Replies to “Julian Onderdonk”

  1. I first became aware of Julian Onderdonk’s work at an exhibition that was mounted in the early 1980s, at the Henry Gallery at the University of Washington. The exhibition was called “Down Garden Paths”. The exhibition included works by prominent American Impressionists, Boston School artists, California Plein Air painters, and others. It also included a beautiful Granville Redmond. It was one of many great exhibitions that were brought to Seattle under Henry Director Harvey West. The exhibition originated at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and the catalogue was written by William H. Gerdts, a pioneer of American regional studies.

  2. Thanks, WIlliam. Sounds like it was a terrific exhibition. Gerdts’ American Impressionism was one of my sources for bio information on Onderdonk, though the mention is small and his work represented by a single image.

  3. Thanks, Aelle. Good to know about another book on Onderdonk. In reference to the title, I neglected to mention that in addition to Julian Onderdonk’s father, his sister Eleanor was also an artist, making her mark as a miniaturist.

  4. He does a wonderful job of capturing the mass of flowers. I’m planning a commissioned work of a dog in a field of sunflowers and the least fun part will be the distant sunflowers- although I think I may take some clues from Onderdonk. Although with that obvious range of talent, no wonder he didn’t like his moniker. Yeesh!!

  5. You are certainly correct in stating that his work has been unfairly overlooked. These works of art reminded me of Monet and the likes as I was scrolling through.

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