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Julian Onderdonk in New York

The Lost Years, the Lost Paintings

James Graham Baker

Publication Year: 2014

Famed for his bluebonnet landscapes, San Antonio native Julian Onderdonk may be the most well-known artist Texas has ever produced. Onderdonk spent several years outside the state, though, seeking to make a name for himself in New York City. He spent much of his time in New York as the very definition of a starving artist.

In Julian Onderdonk: The Lost Years, the Lost Paintings, James Graham Baker explores the artist’s New York years, so often neglected by previous scholars. Through painstaking research, Baker reveals that Onderdonk painted hundreds of images under pseudonyms during his time in New York. These images not only reveal the means by which the artist struggled to make ends meet, but add another dimension to our understanding of the artist’s oeuvre. It is not possible to appreciate and understand Julian Onderdonk and his art without including these works. Largely composed of landscapes and marine scenes depicting the vanishing rural areas and shorelines around New York City, they show that Onderdonk was more than simply a “bluebonnet painter.”

Published by: Texas State Historical Association

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-xii

All books are completed with the help of many others, and this one is no exception. Without the kind assistance of a multitude of people who shared their love for and knowledge of Julian Onderdonk’s work and allowed us to study their collections of his work, this project would not...

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pp. xiii-xiv

This foreword has only one suitable purpose: to incite you to read the book that will be on the lips and in the libraries of every Julian Onderdonk (1882–1922) collector in the world. It will also change forever the art community’s critical appreciation of Onderdonk, both as a person...

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pp. xv-xviii

Among Texas art lovers, Julian Onderdonk has long been a favorite native son. Born in San Antonio in 1872 into a family of artists, he left Texas in January of 1901 to study in New York. After nine years Julian returned to San Antonio and set a high standard for depicting...

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Chapter 1. Roots

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pp. 1-4

In early January 1901, Julian Onderdonk, an aspiring eighteen-year-old artist from San Antonio arrived in New York City to study art. New York would be his home for most of the next nine years, a critical time for both his life and his work. In the estimation of many art historians, collectors...

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Chapter 2. 1901: Early Days in New York City

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pp. 5-10

The train slowed to a stop and passengers rushed to get off on that cold January day in New York City— cold by Texas standards anyway. Among them was a baby-faced eighteen-year-old youth whose black hair framed his slightly chubby face. Julian Onderdonk had arrived in his ancestral...

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Chapter 3. 1902: Love and Marriage

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pp. 11-22

Although he was lonely, life at the Windermere suited Julian. It was close to the Art Students League, Central Park, and the Hudson River, and convenient to shopping and transportation. He particularly liked the views from his apartment window and from the building’s roof. A series of interesting drawings (sketches in pencil or ink) and...

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Chapter 4. February 1903 to May 1904: Married Life, Fatherhood, and Struggling to Pay the Bills

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pp. 23-28

By February 1903, the Shipman-Onderdonk family had left the Windermere and moved uptown to a large apartment at 159 West Eightieth Street. No doubt this helped Julian and Gertrude to survive, but it removed Julian somewhat from the art world activities that circulated...

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Chapter 5. May to December 1904: Arrochar Park, Staten Island, New York

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pp. 29-38

Staten Island lies southwest of Manhattan and, although a part of New York City, it is separated from the other four boroughs by the Upper and Lower New York Bays and the Verrazano Narrows. In the early twentieth century it was largely rural and pastoral and offered inexpensive...

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Chapter 6. January to November 1905: Arrochar Park

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pp. 39-48

Julian and Gertrude continued to live at the Barrett Annex. Julian may have still held classes for a time at the Barrett Mansion before finally abandoning the enterprise, as it was not going to be a solution to the family’s financial problems. The young couple resolved to borrow no more money...

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Chapter 7. November 1905 to January 1907: The Dongan Hills, Staten Island, New York

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pp. 49-60

On October 25, 1905, Julian wrote his mother telling her that he had rented half of an old farm house with an attic that would serve as his studio. The house was in the Dongan Hills area of Staten Island and the monthly rent was only $7.50, an amount equal to the family’s monthly meat...

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Chapter 8. 1907: A Quiet Year in the Dongan Hills

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pp. 61-64

As their fourth year on Staten Island began, Julian must have felt a sense of satisfaction and growing self-confidence. The family finances were no longer in such dire straits. In March, Julian donated a canvas to be sold at auction for the benefit of the New York Throat, Nose and Lung Hospital, an act of generosity he...

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Chapter 9. The Roots of Julian’s Art

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pp. 65-70

Julian’s formal art education had come to an end by 1903, but that did not mean his curiosity and learning stopped. Throughout his life Julian collected art books, studied art, and visited galleries and museums. In his capacity as the organizer of the State Fair of Texas fine art exhibitions he...

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Chapter 10. The Charles Turners and the Missing Worksof Julian Onderdonk

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pp. 71-78

We do not know how many pictures Julian Onderdonk created in his lifetime. Almost certainly it was well over one thousand and, with nearly one thousand documented so far, perhaps as many as two thousand or more. Date or subject matter indicate that between...

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Chapter 11. Julian Onderdonk’s Pseudonymous Works

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pp. 79-122

Chas. Tunison may not have been a great, or even a good, artist; Julian was certainly unimpressed with Tunison’s paintings. But for all his faults, Tunison had a shrewd eye for art and artistic talent and a good sense of how to sell paintings, both developed over decades spent in the New...

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Chapter 12. Clues to the Lost Paintings of Julian Onderdonk

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pp. 123-132

The hundreds of paintings Julian did under a pseudonym became lost paintings, orphans whose true parentage was unknown. These paintings slowly spread out across America and have been found from New York to California, Washington State to Washington, D.C., and Arizona to...

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Chapter 13. 1908

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pp. 133-142

The year 1908, like 1904, was a transformative one for Julian. Of the thirty-five known Julian Onderdonk paintings dated 1908, two depict winter scenes, four appear to be spring and five or six summer, while twenty are autumn scenes. (The remainder cannot be assigned to a season...

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Chapter 14. 1909 and 1910: Free to Roam

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pp. 143-156

There is nothing among the available Onderdonk family papers that indicates how long Julian and Gertrude remained at the house in the Dongan Hills after Adrienne sailed for Texas with her grandmother in October 1908. It is even possible the couple moved back to Manhattan...

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Chapter 15. The Other Lost New York Paintings of Julian Onderdonk

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pp. 157-160

Although a significant body of Julian’s New York works has gone unnoticed the paintings were signed with the names Elbert H. Turner, Chase Turner, and particularly, Chas. Turner, there is another group of Julian’s New...

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Chapter 16. Conclusion

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pp. 161-162

The years of poverty and hardship that Julian endured in New York finally ended. He graduated from the school of hard knocks and learned his lessons on his own without the benefit of mentor or patron (other than...

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Appendix A

Julian Onderdonk

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pp. 163-164

One day in the Spring of 1904 I was showing a picture in a dealer’s shop when a wretch of a man quietly came into my life and affairs. He was showing some pictures that he said he had painted, trying to sell them as...

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Appendix B

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pp. 165-168

The purpose of this appendix is two-fold: first to look at the evolution of Julian’s signature through time, and second to examine how he formed the characters in his signatures, dates, and inscriptions...

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Appendix C

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pp. 169-172

When conducting an examination of the documents submitted to me for comparison in this matter, I relied on the accepted methodology in the field of forensic document examination, which includes comparing “unknowns” to...

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Appendix D

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pp. 173-174

This letter by Julian Onderdonk to his wife, Gertrude, seems to have been written during the time of marital stress for the couple in 1910. It also reveals a great deal of his philosophy of art. The letter is from the Estate of Adrienne Onderdonk, are in the Onderdonk Family Papers at...

Appendix E

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pp. 175-178

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pp. 179-186

Much of the biographical information on the Onderdonks used in this book comes from Cecilia Steinfeldt’s The Onderdonks: A Family of Texas Painters. Published in 1976, Steinfeldt’s book is not widely available today because of the destruction of thousands of copies...

General Index

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pp. 187-190

Index of Artwork

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pp. 191-192

E-ISBN-13: 9781625110244
E-ISBN-10: 1625110243
Print-ISBN-13: 9781625110206

Page Count: 230
Publication Year: 2014

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Subject Headings

  • Onderdonk, Julian, 1882-1922.
  • Impressionist artists -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Onderdonk, Julian, 1882-1922 -- Homes and haunts -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Onderdonk, Julian, 1882-1922 -- Anonyms and pseudonyms.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- In art.
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