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Julian Onderdonk

Written by Brett Nelson

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Posted on October 04 2019

The Life of Julian Onderdonk

 Julian Onderdonk is one of the most important artists in American history. He was born in 1882 and passed away in 1922. Julian Onderdonk's talent is immediately clear, but his work is particularly important considering the nature of American art and the technological developments that were changing the artistic landscape.

 The landscapes of Europe have been immortalized through the work of centuries worth of immensely talented European artists. America has had a much shorter history, and could never have been properly captured by the geniuses of the Renaissance era. America's relative youth as a nation is all the more evident in the discussion of the life and accomplishments of someone like Julian Onderdonk. He is still famous for his landscape paintings of Texas, which hadn't even been an American state for very long during his lifetime. Photography was rapidly replacing painting during his lifetime.

 While people still paint today and still capture landscapes using old-fashioned forms of media, the American landscape is still more commonly portrayed using photography and video. In an age where photography and video equipment is ubiquitous, this trend is particularly pronounced. There was a long period in Europe where visuals could only be rendered and immortalized through paintings, drawings, and sculptures, which the development of European art reflects. Photography was available for a good percentage of American history, which has shaped the way America has been portrayed in art, and which makes artists like Julian Onderdonk even more important.

 Julian Onderdonk's father was a professional artist who instructed his son long before Julian Onderdonk became a student at the Art Student's League. By most records, Julian Onderdonk had a surprisingly spirited personality, which made outdoor landscape painting all the more appropriate for him. Julian Onderdonk continued studying art and selling art until his marriage to Gertrude Shipman in 1902. He temporarily relaxed his artistic studies at that point, but he started organizing art shows professionally in 1906. In 1909, Julian Onderdonk settled in Texas, the place that he ultimately considered home.

 It is possible that Julian Onderdonk's time away from Texas helped his craft somewhat by reminding him of all the things that he'd been missing. He'd been used to the cold, angular, and industrial urban environment of New York, making the seemingly endless, expansive Texas countryside look all the more gorgeous and liberating by comparison. He approached Texas landscape painting with renewed vigor and went on to create the work that would ultimately make him a famous artist with a profound legacy.

 Julian Onderdonk would wax poetic about the ever-changing seasonal beauty of the Texas landscape. He returned to New York for the sake of putting together art exhibitions for work, but he would always wind up back in Texas painting its expansive natural wonders. Many local individuals loved his work, and it quickly began to catch on throughout the United States. Julian Onderdonk vastly preferred being an artist to being an art organizer, and his priorities seemed to shift in that direction. He was often insecure with regards to the quality of his work, which only made things worse.

 Julian Onderdonk died as a young man in a way that took everyone around him by surprise. While there are plenty of individuals that receive diagnoses of terminal illness and linger for years afterward, Julian Onderdonk either didn't have much notice himself or didn't give those around him much notice. He was not a particularly health-conscious individual, but no one could have anticipated that it would end like that. Still, Julian Onderdonk's paintings have become an important part of art history and an important part of American history. Modern Texans continue to appreciate Julian Onderdonk's talent and vision.

View our Julian Onderdonk Gallery