Julian Onderdonk is often referred to as “the father of Texas Bluebonnet painting”. Born July 30, 1882 in San Antonio, Texas to artist and art teacher Robert Jenkins Onderdonk and Emily Wesley Rogers Gould. Julian’s father had been a prominent artist in Maryland when he came to Dallas in 1879. Shortly thereafter, he met and married Emily Gould, his student at the Art Students’ League of Dallas, the first community art organization in that city. However, Emily’s father became ill and the Onderdonks relocated to San Antonio, where she could take care of her ailing father.
Julian’s first art teacher was his father and by the time Julian reached 18 he had also studied with prominent Texas artist Verner Moore White who also lived in San Antonio at the time. Julian attended West Texas Military Academy (TMI) and after graduating in 1900 he wanted to spread his wings and fly back east. With the help of a generous neighbor who recognized Julian’s talent, he was able to study with American Impressionist William Merritt Chase at Chase’s Shinnecock School of Art. Julian’s father, Robert, had also once been Chase’s student. After a couple of years studying with Chase, Julian moved to New York City making a living as an ‘en plein air’ artist. While there he met and married Gertrude Shipman and soon after, they had a daughter.
In 1906 Julian was offered a salaried position at the Dallas State Fair in a position his father had once worked at. This opportunity brought him back to Texas and by 1909 he moved back to San Antonio. Upon his return Julian immediately began painting the Texas countryside. He and his father would go on sketching jaunts together, and Julian, after so many years in New York, was back in his natural element applying the principles he had learned from his mentors.
Of South Texas, Julian said this, “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.“
Onderdonk died in San Antonio unexpectedly at the age of 40 from a bowel obstruction. His works can presently be seen at the Witte Museum and in the San Antonio Museum of Art. During the George W. Bush administration, three of his paintings adorned the walls of the oval office. His most popular subjects were bluebonnet landscapes.
What do you know about… Texas?