In the early nineteenth century, Robert Walter Weir was considered one of this country’s preeminent painters. Weir was so highly regarded that he was among five artists selected by Congress to create historical paintings for the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. The resulting picture, Embarkation of the Pilgrims, became Weir’s best-known work.
In 1834, Weir became the first American to serve as Instructor of Drawing at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, a post he held for forty-two years. Among his most famous pupils were Jefferson Davis and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who left the Academy in 1854 to pursue an artistic career. Weir also instructed his own sons in art: the painter and sculptor John Ferguson Weir (1841-1926), served as the first director of the Yale School of Art; and Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919) became one of America’s foremost Impressionist painters.