History

Julian Onderdonk’s Stunning Paintings Captured the Beauty of Bluebonnets

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As Texans, we’re seemingly born with a special affinity for the bluebonnet. Throughout our history, many a Texan artist–amateur and professional alike–has sought to recreate the beauty of our state flower on film, canvas, or other mediums. One such Texan artist, Julian Onderdonk, made it his life’s work to capture the loveliness of Texas wildflowers in his paintings. In doing so, Onderdonk also managed to showcase the beauty of the Texas landscape with an appreciation that only one who has grown up here and knows it “like the back of his hand” can exhibit.

Born and Raised in the Texas Hill Country

Julian Onderdonk

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Born in San Antonio in 1882, Julian Onderdonk was raised by an artist father who recognized his son’s artistic abilities from an early age and taught the young Onderdonk the basic principles of painting. Onderdonk called the San Antonio area and Texas Hill Country home until the age of 19, when he moved to New York to further pursue the study of art under the guidance of American Impressionist William Merritt Chase.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, it is widely believed that while in New York, Onderdonk painted under the guise of several different pseudonyms. These paintings, which bore the signatures “Roberto Vasquez,” “Chas. Turner,” “Chase Turner” and “Elbert H. Turner,” were sold to department stores in New York. Onderdonk used the proceeds he earned from these works to pay off debts and support his new wife and growing family. It was only decades later that art historians realized these New York paintings were actually done by Onderdonk.

Onderdonk’s Work Shows A Special Side of Texas

Julian Onderdonk

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In 1909, Onderdonk returned to his home of San Antonio with his wife and child in tow. It was then that he dove head-first into creating his most important art: his wildflower pieces. These works of art have captured the eye and heart of people from all over the world for their accurate depiction of the unrivaled beauty that a field of Texas wildflowers possesses. They are also a realistic portrayal of the landscape of the Texas Hill Country. While many artists over the years have likened the Texas Hill Country to a barren, dusty, “Wild, Wild West,” scene, Onderdonk managed to show this part of Texas the way only a native Texan can. His work showed the landscape for what it really is: lush, green, and breathtaking with a hearty juxtaposition of cactus and vibrant wildflowers growing wildly, and a backdrop featuring a “cotton candy” sunrise.

Onderdonk’s Work Decorated The White House

Onderdonk White House painting

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

According to the Texas State Historical Association, Julian Onderdonk died of an intestinal ailment in San Antonio on October 27, 1922, at the age of 40. While Onderdonk’s work gained popularity during his lifetime, his art has probably never been more appreciated than in more recent years. In fact, George W. Bush and Laura Bush requested three of Onderdonk’s Texas landscapes to hang in the White House during Bush’s presidency, thus bringing a bit of “home” to Washington D.C. for the Texas-born and -bred Bush family. These days, Onderdonk’s work regularly fetches hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction and remains in high demand.

While we only have a few precious weeks left of peak bluebonnet season here in Texas, the work of Onderdonk can be enjoyed year-round at museums of art in various cities across Texas and beyond. If you would like to see Onderdonk’s work in person, the San Antonio Museum of Art has a piece of Onderdonk’s work on display entitled, “Near San Antonio,” which was painted in 1918. The oil on canvas piece features rolling Texas hills covered in bluebonnets. Beyond Onderdonk’s hometown of San Antonio, traveling collections of Onderdonk’s landscapes often visit Houston and Dallas, thus spreading a bit of the beauty of the Texas Hill Country far and wide.