"Hollyhocking," Weir's term for embellishing the scenery in his paintings, allowed the artist to realize his vision of a pastoral New England. If a painting needed just the right bit of color to balance the composition or to blot out some unsightly feature, Weir simply added a hollyhock, the most genteel of all New England flora. The practice of "hollyhocking," or taking artistic license, did not run in the family. Weir's father, the painter Robert W. Weir, taught drawing at the United States Military Academy at West Point, a job that stressed topographic precision. The younger Weir learned to draw at his father's knee before traveling to Paris in 1873 to study with Jean Léon Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts. This academic training made Weir initially disdainful of impressionism. Purchasing a farm in Branchville, Connecticut, helped bring about a change of heart and a shift in style as Weir took to the outdoors and began experimenting with a lighter palette and broader brushwork. During this period he also became an important leader in the art world, organizing the upstart group known as "The Ten," before moving on to serve in increasingly conservative positions, such as president of the National Academy of Design and trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. As time went on, critics chided Weir for his prosaic style of painting. Weir's answer to these charges: add another hollyhock.
William H. Truettner and Roger B. Stein, editors, with contributions by Dona Brown, Thomas Andrew Denenberg, Judith K. Maxwell, Stephen Nissenbaum, Bruce Robertson, Roger B. Stein, and William H. Truettner Picturing Old New England: Image and Memory (Washington, D.C.; New Haven, Conn; and London: National Museum of American Art with Yale University Press, 1999)
Julian Alden Weir grew up in an artistic home on the campus of West Point Military Academy, where his father taught art. Weir recalled a magical childhood in a house crammed with paintings and rooms filled with pots of paint, mannequins, plaster casts, and other "familiar old relics." (Cummings, "Home is the Starting Place: J. Alden Weir and the Spirit of Place," in J. Alden Weir: A Place of His Own, 1991) After studying at the National Academy of Design and in Paris, Weir returned to the United States in a position to succeed in the New York art world. And it didn't hurt that he had an appealing personality and good looks. He was a celebrity among his peers, and one collector described him as a "lovable, sincere, and sympathetic companion." Weir and his wife, Anna, loved nature and spent a good deal of time away from New York in their farmhouse in Branchville, Connecticut. (Cikovsky, "J. Alden Weir & Impressionism," in A Connecticut Place: Weir Farm, An American Painter's Rural Retreat, 2000)