Villa Finale’s Texas Artists: The Onderdonks

The Villa Finale collection includes some notable Texas artists, including Robert Julian and his father Robert Jenkins Onderdonk, and Mary Bonner.  In fact, Mary Bonner was, early in her studies as an artist, a student of Robert Jenkins Onderdonk.

Lisa Stewart, practicing artist and Villa Finale’s Visitor Services Coordinator, offers a quick introduction to the work of Julian Onderdonk and his father Julian. Be sure to check out Lisa’s accompanying art project here (YouTube link) and stay tuned in May for a continuation of this blog series, with a focus next on the life and work of Mary Bonner.

Lisa Stewart

Robert Julian Onderdonk (1882 – 1922)

“Julian”, as he was referred, was raised in San Antonio, Texas, and was often called “the father of Texas painting.” He received his initial art training from his father, Robert, but eventually studied with other artists, such as Texas artist Verner Moore White, also a San Antonian.

Julian was inspired while taking long walks, visiting patrons’ homes and ranches along the river, and on his drives into the Texas Hill Country. His interest in botany and wildflowers is evident in his paintings and detailed drawings. Viewers are invited into his landscapes with many variables such as different placements of the horizon line, changing seasons, and times of day.

His love of the Hill Country is expressed through his art, and his words.

“There are several distinctive features of this country…the cacti in bloom, in the sunlight; the blue-bonnet, as it blooms in masses on the hillsides; the gulf clouds that roll by here in the mornings; the head waters of the rivers where the color is wonderful in varying lights of the day; the live oak trees; the wide reaches of rolling hills; and the brush country in winter.  These subjects are my dreams, my aims, my work…an every-changing symphony of color…”  (From Villa Finale’s Collection)

Julian Onderdonk was truly not only a painter and naturalist, but a poet in the way he expressed himself.

“The dazzling beauty of these roads impels me to park my car in the dust, and heat, and work.  The same roads are wonderful in color at late afternoon and at twilight.”

The Onderdonks managed on very little income, but at the age of only 19, with the help of a generous neighbor, Julian was able to leave Texas to study in New York with renowned American Impressionist, William Merritt Chase.

He spent the summer of 1901 taking outdoor painting classes at Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art on Long Island, New York. After his summer of study, Julian moved to New York City to try and make a living as an “en plein air” artist. He met his wife there, Gertrude Shipman, and had daughter Adrienne.

Portrait of Julian Onderdonk by William Merritt Chase (The Witte Museum)

By 1906 Julian was splitting his time between New York and San Antonio. He spent a lot of time studying other Naturalist artists in New York City museums, especially the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History. He exhibited in both cities, most notably in New York City at the National Academy of Design.

Finally, in 1909, Julian returned to San Antonio permanently with his wife Gertrude and their two children Adrienne and Robert where, according to reviewers, he produced his best work.

Unfortunately, at the peak of his success, Julian died of intestinal obstruction and appendicitis. However, Julian’s work, and that of his father, Robert, can be seen in museums beyond San Antonio, and even in The Oval Office under George W. Bush, who, during his presidency, decorated its interior with 3 of his paintings.

Julian Onderdonk’s art studio now resides on the grounds of the Witte Museum.

Robert Jenkins Onderdonk (1852 – 1917)

Julian’s father, Robert Onderdonk, was a long-time art teacher who formed art associations and leagues to support and promote other artists.

Robert Onderdonk studied at the National Academy of Design and Art Students League, both in New York City. One of his teachers, William Merritt Chase, founded the Chase School of Art, which later became Parsons School of Design.

“Buffalo Hunt” by Robert Onderdonk (from Wikimedi Commons)

Robert was from Maryland and had a friend, Robert Negley, who had already moved to Texas (in 1878) to become a rancher. Robert hoped to make portraits of rich Texans to earn enough money to travel to Europe but didn’t accomplish that. He stayed in Texas for 38 years and was an important influence for artists in Texas.

Robert Onderdonk founded the Van Dyck Club which was an art association for women painters.  It later became the San Antonio Arts League. His daughter Eleanor was an important member and organizer. The Arts League still thrives today, supporting local artists with exhibitions and classes.  

Robert Onderdonk (from WikiArt)

Robert Onderdonk wasn’t ambitious, nor was he careful in signing his work. Despite painting hundreds of portraits, he never earned a suitable living.  For example, he only charged $3 per month for studio classes. He did a little better went he went to Dallas (1889) when he was offered $100 per month to teach.

Several of the first art clubs in San Antonio were organized by Robert which helped to develop state and nationwide interest in Texas art and gave Texas and American artists places to display and the opportunity to win awards.

Robert was known to always carry a wood panel (such as a cigar box top) so he could paint small scenes wherever he went. His most famous work was “Fall of the Alamo,” painted in 1901 – a large commission by well know Texas historian, James T. DeShields. He also provided the illustrations for the autobiography of Texas gunfighter, John Wesley Hardin, known as “the fastest gun in the west, east, north & south,” published in 1896.

Check out this art tutorial video about landscapes featuring our own Lisa Stewart!

Celebrating Hispanic Artists: Frida Khalo and Patrociño Barela

As we continue to observe Hispanic Heritage Month, Museum Attendant, Doug Daye takes a close look at Latino artists Frida Khalo and Patrociño Barela!

By Doug Daye

Get an intimate look at two inspirational Hispanic artists, Frida Khalo and Patrociño Barela. Though their work was phenomenal, both artists had to face much adversity and sadness over the course of their lives. Examining the difficulties they had to face truly deepens the love and respect for the legacy they left behind for all to enjoy.

Frida Kahlo

From fridakhalo.org

Frida Kahlo was born on July 9, 1907, in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico. Her father, Wilhem, was a German photographer who immigrated to Mexico and married Matilde Calderón y González, a mestiza woman. During her childhood, Kahlo contracted polio which caused her to be bedridden for nine months. The disease damaged her right and left foot which made her walk with a limp after she recovered. She went on to study at the National Preparatory School in 1922 where she became very popular with her fellow students and politically active by joining the Young Communist League and the Mexican Communist Party. In 1925, Kahlo, along with her boyfriend at the time, Alejondro Gomez Arias, became involved in a tragic bus accident that caused damage to her spine and pelvis. After returning home from the Red Cross Hospital to recuperate further, Kahlo completed her first self-portrait and gave it to Arias. In 1929, Kahlo married well-known muralist Diego Rivera. Following Rivera’s career, they lived in multiple places including San Francisco, New York, and Detroit. Their relationship was very strained and tainted by infidelity. Khalo suffered much heartbreak in her marriage to Rivera including a miscarriage in 1934. They divorced in 1939 but then remarried a year later.

Khalo painting while convalescing following the bus accident in 1925. From mcall.com.

Frida Khalo’s life was filled with challenges that were both physical and emotional that she displayed in much of her artwork. She kept a diary of her drawings and her inner thoughts up until her death in 1954. The Dolores Olmedo Museum in Xochimilco, Mexico City, displays the intimate, colorful pages of her diary on their online exhibit!

Frida Khalo’s diary can be viewed on the Google Arts and Culture website here: https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/a-peek-at-frida-kahlo-s-diary/sAKymDksayhmJA

Also, take a look at photographs from her life and her famous artwork at the Frida Kahlo Museum’s online exhibit “Frida Kahlo: Vida la Vida” here: https://artsandculture.google.com/story/SwUxhkzUTlOgbw

Patrociño Barela

Patrociño Barela from americanart.si.edu

Patrociño Barela was born in Bisbee, Arizona in 1908. He left home at a young age after his mother died, to search for work. He found work as a laborer in Denver, Colorado and became married to a widow with three children, before moving to New Mexico in 1930. He began crafting his own wood sculptures after being commissioned to reconstruct a wooden devotional carving, known colloquially in New Mexico as a bulto, and also commonly known as santo. For over 30 years he worked carving figures of men and women, to symbolize family dynamics, as well as many religious figures, eventually becoming one of the foremost santeros, or carvers of wooden saints. Barela’s art gained notoriety after Russell Vernon Hunter, director of the Works Progress Administration took notice and included his work in the Public Works of Art Project in 1935. Though his work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and he was praised as the “most dramatic discovery” to come out of the exhibition, he was uninterested in fame and money. He unfortunately died in a fire in his woodshed in 1964. Barela is noted as being the first Mexican-American to receive national recognition for his work and his talent has been greatly admired by other artists, especially his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Barela with his son in New Mexico, 1936. From Wikimedia Commons Archives of American Art.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico has an online exhibit dedicated to Patrociño Barela. The exhibit gives details about his sensational artwork including “Untitled: Portrait of a Black Man” which he dedicated to a black family that helped him in his time of need.

The online collection can be viewed here: https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/patrocinio-barela-works-of-art/ZAKyxP8WSvFsLA

Learn more about Patrociño Barela here: https://www.collectorsguide.com/fa/fa046.shtml