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Robert Walter Weir Portrait

Robert Walter Weir

Also Known as: Robert W. Weir, Robert Weir

New York, New York 1803

New York, New York 1889

Active in:

  • Florence, Italy
  • West Point, New York

Luce Artist Quote

“Art is man’s interpretation of beauty.” Robert Walter Weir, quoted in Robert Weir: Artist and Teacher of West Point, 1976


Born 18 June 1803, New York. 1811, family moved to New Rochelle; back to New York by 1817. First art training from Robert Cox (or Cook), an English heraldic painter; and, apparently, from John Wesley Jarvis. Attended American Academy, New York, and studied anatomy at New York University's medical school. 1821, began painting professionally. 1824, to Florence, Italy. About 1826, went to Rome; shared rooms with Horatio Greenough. 1828, returned to U.S. and opened New York studio. 1829, elected associate, National Academy of Design, New York; 1831, academician. 1834, named instructor of drawing at West Point. 1836, began Embarkation of the Pilgrims for the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, where it was installed 1843. 1846, made professor, West Point. About the same time, designed and built Church of the Holy Innocents, Highland Falls, N.Y. 1876, retired from West Point and settled at Castle Point, Hoboken, N.J. Maintained studio in New York City. Sons Julian Alden and John Ferguson Weir became noted artists. Died 1 May 1889, Hoboken.

William Kloss Treasures from the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C. and London: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985)

Additional Biographies

Luce Artist Biography

Robert Walter Weir spent many mornings as a young man sketching at the American Academy of the Fine Arts in New York. The artist John Trumbull, who headed the academy, advised Weir to “give up painting and take to making shoes.” Weir ignored him, however, and after a few years studying in Italy became the drawing instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He remained there for forty-two years and spent all of his free time painting illustrations for books and magazines, landscapes of the surrounding countryside, and portraits of notable army officers. In 1836 he received a commission to create a historical painting for the U.S. Capitol Rotunda; called Embarkation of the Pilgrims, it is considered his best-known work. (Robert Weir: Artist and Teacher of West Point, 1976)