Robert Walter Weir

Educator and Pioneering Artist (1803-1889)

“Art is man’s interpretation of beauty […] it is the chiseled, colored, or written index of the mind; and for this reason, in its purity, in its integrity of its purpose, it is a strong incentive for good”

~ Robert Walter Weir, New York Evening Post, 1877

Robert Walter Weir was a well established artist of the American Hudson River School of Painters when he was offered the commission of Instructor of Drawing at West Point in 1834. His initial salary was $900 per annum. Weir remained in his position for 42 years and had a tremendous impact on the study of drawing at the Academy from its evolution in the early 1800’s until his departure. Several of Weir’s students at West Point became renowned artists, include James A.M. Whistler, best known for the painting Whistler’s Mother, and Seth Eastman, known for his depictions of Native American Dakota and Ojibwa life. Additionally, many of the most famous names attributed to the Civil War era were students under Weir’s tutelage, including Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, “Stonewall” Jackson, and Philip H. Sheridan. While at West Point, Weir was commissioned to paint numerous portraits of army officers, the most famous, Robert E. Lee, Winfield Scott and Sylvanus Thayer.

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Weir’s most famous work is Embarkation of the Pilgrims, one of the four paintings of its time to be commissioned by the federal government to adorn the Capitol Rotunda. Works such as the Landing of Henrik Hudson and View of the Hudson River emphasized his ties to the region and its history. He left a legacy in his two sons, John F. Weir and J. Alden Weir, both accomplished artists and well known during their time. A respected patriarch of American art, Robert Weir is fittingly laid to rest in the West Point Military Academy cemetery.

Sources

American’s First River: Bill Moyers on the Hudson. Part One: Stories from the Hudson: Lange, M & Spain, T. (2002). PBS: New York.

Gerdts, W.H. (1976). Robert Weir: Artist an Teacher of West Point.Cadet Fine Arts Forum of the United States Corps of Cadets. West Point, NY.

Images in the public domain:

Embarkation of the Pilgrims. Retrieved on 13 March 2013 from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Embarkation_of_the_Pilgrims.jpg

Photograph of American painter Robert Walter Weir (1803-889), circa 1864. Retrieved on 11 March 2013 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Robert_Walter_Weir,_circa_1864.jpg

Self Portrait, Worcester Art Museum. Retrieved from on 11 March 2013: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/preview.php?id=490845

St. Nicholas, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved on 13 March 2013: http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=2746

The Microscope, Yale University Art Gallery. Retrieved on 13 March 2013: http://ecatalogue.art.yale.edu/detail.htm?objectId=52975

View of the Hudson River from West Point, Private Collection. Retrieved on 15 March 2013: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=12227