Weir, Irene (1862–1944)
Weir, Irene (1862–1944)
American artist and art educator. Born on January 15, 1862, in St. Louis, Missouri; died of cardiovascular disease on March 22, 1944, in Yorktown Heights, New York; daughter of Walter Weir (a teacher) and Annie Field (Andrews) Weir; enrolled at the Yale School of Fine Arts (1881–82) and was awarded a B.F.A. degree in 1906; received a diploma from the École des Beaux Arts Américaine in Fontainbleau in 1923; never married; no children.
Taught drawing in grammar and high schools in New Haven, Connecticut (1887–90); served as director of the Slater Museum School of Art in Norwich, Connecticut; was teacher and then director of art instruction for Brookline, Massachusetts, public schools; published The Greek Painters' Art (1905); published Outlines of Courses in Design, Representation and Color for High School Classes (with Elizabeth Stone, 1910); taught in the fine arts department of the Ethical Culture School; founded (1917) and served as director of the School of Design and Liberal Arts (1917–29).
Born on January 15, 1862, in St. Louis, Missouri, Irene Weir continued a 100-year family tradition of devotion to the fine arts through her career as an artist and teacher. She followed in the footsteps of such notable family members as her grandfather Robert Walter Weir (1803–1889), who was both a painter and an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for 42 years, and her uncles John Ferguson Weir (1841–1926), a painter who served as director of the School of Fine Arts at Yale University for over four decades, and Julian Alden Weir (1852–1919), a leader in the New York art world. Irene Weir credited her family's ability to combine hard work with a love of beauty for their success in art. She studied art privately under her uncle Julian before enrolling at John Ferguson Weir's School of Fine Arts at Yale in 1881.
After spending a year at Yale, Weir, like many 19th-century American artists, chose to go abroad to further her artistic development, making two trips to Europe to study at galleries in France, Italy, Spain, Holland, and England. Upon her return to the U.S., she embarked on what would be a lengthy and distinguished teaching career, beginning with instruction in drawing at the grammar and high schools of New Haven, Connecticut, from 1887 to 1890. This led to her appointment as director of the Slater Museum School of Art in Norwich, Connecticut, for three years. After a two-month stint at the newly established Denison House settlement in Boston, Massachusetts, she became a teacher and then the director of art instruction in the Brookline, Massachusetts, public school system. During this time, Weir wrote and published The Greek Painters' Art (1905) and Outlines of Courses in Design, Representation and Color for High School Classes (1910), the latter co-authored with Elizabeth Stone .
In 1910, Weir left Brookline for New York City and a job teaching in the fine arts department of the prestigious Ethical Culture School. Seven years later, she founded the School of Design and Liberal Arts, which offered courses in crafts, interior decorating, art education, fashion illustration and commercial design in addition to the more traditional subjects of drawing and painting. Her tenure as director of the school from 1917 to 1929 was interrupted by a trip to France in 1923, during which she earned a diploma from the École des Beaux Arts Américaine.
Weir's own best-known works were posters from the 1890s, flower and landscape paintings, portraits (including one of Marie Curie which now hangs at Memorial Hospital in New York City), and powerful murals painted during the 1920s. Among these latter works are Mother and Babe with Jesus, painted at a prison in New York City, and Child of Bethlehem, done for the Washington Cathedral. Like most of her mature works, these were strongly informed by her Episcopal beliefs. Weir exhibited at a number of galleries in New York City and London as well as at the Brooklyn Museum and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.
An active member of the art world, Weir served as director of the Art Alliance of America and the Salons of America for several terms. She was also a contributing member of many artists' organizations, such as the Independent Artists of America, the National Society of Etchers, the Founders Group of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, and the London Lyceum Club. Besides teaching, she lectured at museums and at various colleges and universities including Princeton and Vassar.
Weir retired as director of the School of Design and Liberal Arts in 1929, although she remained active and occasionally gave lectures into her late 70s. She died from cardiovascular disease at a nursing home in Yorktown Heights, New York, in 1944, at age 82.
James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.
Susan J. Walton , freelance writer, Berea, Ohio