Robert Walter Weir

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Robert Walter Weir
Robert Walter Weir, circa 1864.jpg
Robert Walter Weir, circa 1864
Born (1803-06-18)June 18, 1803
New Rochelle, New York
Died May 1, 1889(1889-05-01) (aged 85)
New York City, New York
Nationality American
Education Self-taught
Known for Painting
Movement Realism, Hudson River School

Robert Walter Weir (June 18, 1803 – May 1, 1889) was an American artist, best known as an educator and as a historical painter. He is considered an artist of the Hudson River school.[1] Weir was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1829, and an instructor at the United States Military Academy. Among his better-known works are The Embarkation of the Pilgrims (in the rotunda of the United States Capitol at Washington, D.C.) and Landing of Hendrik Hudson.

Life and career[edit]

The Entrance To A Wood (1836), watercolor and graphite on paper, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Borough of Manhattan, New York City, NY

Robert Weir was born on June 18, 1803, in New Rochelle, New York to Robert and Mary Katherine (Brinkley) Weir. Weir never graduated from college and at age 18, in 1821, left a job as a mercantile clerk to pursue painting. He studied art in New York City from 1822–24, teaching himself drawing and painting, before departing in 1824 to study in Italy.[2] He remained in Florence from 1824–25, and in Rome from 1825–27, during which time he studied the works of Michelangelo, Raphael, and other Italian masters of the Renaissance. Weir returned to New York in 1827 to accompany a sick friend. He remained in New York until 1834 and became an integral part of its artist. He was then appointed as Teacher of Drawing, later Professor of Drawing, at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.[3]

Replacing the late Thomas Grimbrede, Weir was the fifth artist to hold the position of art instructor at the academy.[4] In this post for forty-two years (1834–1876), he instructed many of the future commanders of the American Civil War. (He developed a special relationship with Ulysses S. Grant).[3] Notably, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Seth Eastman were among his students. He died in New York City on May 1, 1889.[4]


Weir and his two wives had 16 children.[5] One son, John Ferguson Weir (born 1841) was a painter and sculptor, and became a Member of the National Academy of Design in 1866, and was made director of the Yale University Art School in 1868. Another son, Julian Alden Weir (born 1852), studied under his father, and under J.-L. Gérôme, and became a distinguished portrait, figure and landscape painter. He was one of the founders of the Society of American Artists in 1877, and became a member of the National Academy of Design (1886) and of the Ten American Painters, New York.[6]


Embarkation of the Pilgrims (commissioned 1837; placed 1844), oil on canvas, 12 x 18 feet, United States Capitol rotunda, Washington, DC

Weir was considered part of the Hudson River school of American art. One of his best known paintings is the The Embarkation of the Pilgrims, which hangs in the United States Capitol rotunda. He was commissioned by the United States Congress in 1837 and the painting was placed in the rotunda in 1844.[7] His canvases deal principally with historical subjects. He also painted a watercolor entitled Last Communion of Henry Clay, and several portraits.

List of Weir's works[edit]

  • Paul Preaching at Athens
  • Two portraits of Sylvanus Thayer [Pappus, p. 210]
  • Embarkation of the Pilgrims at Delft Haven, Holland, July 22, 1620
  • Picnic Along the Hudson[8]
  • Saint Nicholas (1837)[9] (1837), in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.[10]
  • Landing of Hendrik Hudson (1842)
  • A Compositor Setting Type (ca. 1844)[11]
  • Portrait of Robert E. Lee. One of only two portraits of Lee painted before the Civil War.
  • Evening of the Crucifixion (1867)
  • Virgil and Dante crossing the Styx (1869)
  • Seascape with Lighthouse, 1869. Exhibited at Whitney Museum, New York, 1975, in exhibition entitled "Seascape and the American Imagination"
  • The Portico of the Palace of Octavia, Rome (1870)
  • Christ in the Garden (1873)
  • Our Lord in the Mount of Olives (1877)
  • Indian Falls (1878)
  • Titan in his Studio
  • Columbus before the Council of Salamanca (1884)
  • The Bourbons Last March
  • Indian Captive
  • Taking the Veil
  • The Evening of the Crucifixion
  • Portrait of Jared Mansfield
  • Portrait of General Winfield Scott
  • Portrait of Dennis Hart Mahan
  • Il Penseroso

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Robert W". 2000-11-28. Retrieved 2012-05-20. 
  2. ^ Kent Ahrens,"The Portraits of Robert Weir," American Art Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, p. 4
  3. ^ a b Ahrens, p. 4.
  4. ^ a b "USMA site on Weir". 2000-11-28. Retrieved 2012-05-20. 
  5. ^ Jones, Jennifer (Spring 2012). "Portraits of Influence:Robert Walter Weir (1803-89)". BYU Magazine: 31. 
  6. ^ Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Weir, Robert Walter". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  7. ^ "Architect of the Capitol page on Embarkation of the Pilgrims". Retrieved 2012-05-20. 
  8. ^ "Robert Weir - Artist, Fine Art, Auction Records, Prices, Biography for Robert Walter Weir". 2008-12-03. Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
  9. ^ "East Baltimore Documentary Survey Project by Joan Clark Netherwood / American Art". Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
  10. ^ Reed, Henry Hope. The United States Capital: Its Architecture and Decoration. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 203. ISBN 0-393-03831-9. 
  11. ^ Untitled, Hawk-Eye (Burlington, Iowa), 13 June 1844

External links[edit]