The oft-recited phrase "Go West, young man," is a familiar, 19th century challenge to find one's destiny in the wonder and wilds of the American West.
But for the Weirs, a family of influential American artists, their development and promise was realized far to the east of their New York home. The family patriarch, Robert Walter Weir, would be one of the first Americans to study art in Italy in the decades following the American Revolution. Later, two of his sons, John Ferguson Weir and Julian Alden Weir, also spent long periods studying and honing the art skills in Europe.
Thanks in large part to the training they received east on "the Continent," the Weirs — both father and sons — would become among the most prominent of 19th Century American artists.
Given the Weirs' artistic connections to the East, it's perhaps ironic that many of their finest works are found deep in the American West at the Museum of Art at the Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Many of those BYU-owned paintings play an anchoring role in the new exhibit, "The Weir Family, 1820-1920: Expanding the Traditions of American Art."
The exhibit opens Nov. 18 at the museum and includes 74 works drawn from the school's Weir Collection and from more than two dozen other American collections. The Weir exhibit continues the school's long-established tradition of bringing diverse and inspiring collections to the BYU campus and its surrounding communities.
The museum exhibits have become popular destinations for Latter-day Saint families and Church groups of all ages seeking an uplifting museum experience and the opportunity to view a broad range of artistic expression.
The Weir artists were "fervently patriotic" Americans who treasured the liberties gained in the still recent Revolutionary War, according to the museum. They reportedly loathed many of the dictatorial regimes and corruptions found in Europe. Still, they realized that study in Europe was pivotal to their development as artists. Only there could they receive the highest level of training.
The Weirs would become something of a bridge between the established European painting traditions and the burgeoning styles evolving in 19th century America. All three taught hundreds of American art students, passing on the styles they learned from the European masters, according to the museum.
The family's reach stretched into the Latter-day Saint artistic community. Julian Ferguson Weir was the father-in-law of Mahonri Young, a grandson of Brigham Young.
After its initial run at BYU, "The Weir Family" will travel to the New Britain Museum of Art in New Britain, Conn., and then to the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C. The exhibit will be installed in the basement of the BYU-MOA and is free of charge.
Additional information about the exhibit and accompanying symposiums can be found at the museum's website.