Robert Onderdonk captures the hybrid place that San Antonio was in the late 19th century; when trail-driving cowboys, charros, vendors and beautiful Latinas came together in the city’s Market Plaza for an outdoor meal. Robert Jenkins Onderdonk, artist and art teacher, was born on January 16, 1852, at St. Timothy’s Hall, Catonsville, Maryland, the son of Henry and Harriet (Stevenson) Onderdonk. He studied in New York at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students’ League in the early 1870s. His professors were Lemuel Everett Wilmarth, Walter Shirlaw, William Merritt Chase, and James Carrol Beckwith. George Inness, Jr., John Henry Twachtman, and Frederick Stuart Church were among his fellow students. The poetic realism popular at that time characterized Onderdonk’s mature style. He painted still-life, landscape, and genre works with a dark but airy tonality reminiscent of his more famous fellow students. His portraits varied in quality from stark photographic realism to hazy idealized images. He came to Texas in 1879, reportedly to paint portraits of prominent citizens so he could save enough money in a year’s time to study art in Europe. But wealthy San Antonio citizens preferred well-known European artists, so Onderdonk began teaching art classes. He married his neighbor Emily Gould on April 27, 1881. She was an amateur artist and may have attended his classes. They had three children.
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