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Weyl's View of Georgetown

Max Weyl, a landscape painter of views in and around Washington, D.C., was born in southern Germany and apprenticed as a watchmaker before moving with his family to Williamsport, Pennsylvania at the age of sixteen. He came to Washington in 1861 to catch a glimpse of his hero, Abraham Lincoln, and within a year established a small jewelry business on 7th Street across from where the Verizon Center stands today. Weyl’s interest shifted to painting, and he began displaying still-life and landscape pictures in the window of his shop.  When his work was noticed and purchased by Samuel Hay Kauffmann, president of the board of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and publisher of The Evening Star newspaper, Weyl’s career was officially launched.  Encouraged by Kauffmann, who financed a year of study abroad, Weyl turned the management of his shop over to his wife and traveled to four European countries in 1879, where he fell under the spell of Corot, the Barbizon artists, and the recently launched Impressionist movement.

Max Weyl's View of Georgetown From the Virginia Shore

Max Weyl (1837-1914)
View of Georgetown from the Virginia Shore, 1902
Oil on canvas
18 x 24 inches

Upon his return to the U.S., Weyl established an art studio at 17th and Pennsylvania Avenue where Washington artists and their circle became fond of gathering. He joined with a group to form the Washington Landscape School, working in the tradition of the French Barbizon style. This involved painting out of doors directly from nature as opposed to the more common practice of crafting landscapes in the studio based on memory or sketches taken on-site. Weyl became known as “the American Daubigny” who drew inspiration from his native environment. As described in the Washington Star newspaper at the centenary anniversary of his birth:

To Max Weyl no place was more beautiful and more paintable than Washington and its environs. He was never eager to travel or explore. The Potomac Flats, Rock Creek valley, the fields beyond the city limits contained for him all the elements essential to landscape painting. 

Weyl was also a member of the Society of Washington Artists and won two prizes in 1901 and 1904, but remained a rather reclusive artist. His paintings were purchased by two first ladies and at the age of 70 he was honored with a solo exhibition of over one hundred paintings at the Corcoran’s Hemicycle Gallery in 1907. At that exhibition, his painting of an Indian Summer Day was purchased by thirty friends as a gift to what was then the U.S. National Museum, a predecessor of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

This View of Georgetown from the Virginia Shore, showing the skyline with the campus buildings, is one of four paintings by Weyl in Georgetown’s collection. The others are: a View of Georgetown from the Virginia Side of the Potomac, a Portrait of the Artist’s Father, and a Wooded Landscape.

--LuLen Walker, University Art Collection Curator

February 8, 2017