Willimantic Thread Factory

J. Alden Weir, Willimantic Thread Factory, 1893
Oil on canvas, 24 x 33 5/8 in. 
Brooklyn Museum of Art, John B. Woodward Memorial Fund, 16.30

Weir's Connecticut farms were essential to the evolution of his American Impressionist style. Painting in rural settings was a vital element of French Impressionism. During the four years that he studied in Europe, Weir, similarly to contemporary French artists, established a routine of traveling to the countryside during summers to paint. Hollis Clayson explains that:
"Weir was no painter of Paris, old or new — during the one completely discretionary season of the art year – summer, when the teaching studios were closed — he aligned himself with his many contemporaries who, along with the urban gentry, departed for Normandy, Brittany, Barbizon. Among the American painters who followed this course, there is evidence of their attention to (and optimism about) a market back home for pictures of French rural life . . . his aesthetic attraction to places other than Paris continued to grow over the years in Europe . . . an especially eloquent characterization of his feelings for the countryside appear in an 1877 letter from Barbizon: ‘The city life, where one is imprisoned amongst walls, makes ones’ faculties more appreciative . . . After passing a winter in a city, even the smallest moss-covered rock seems in itself a picture." 3
Weir’s Paris routine of working in the city during the winter and the countryside during the summers is a habit he would continue for the rest of his life. Weir loved rural New England, especially Connecticut and most of his landscapes were painted in either Branchville or Windham, and their respective surroundings.
In addition to the importance of nature to the impressionists, Weir’s commitment to rural life and rural villages in Connecticut must also be understood in the broader context of the Country Life movement that emerged in America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Jamie Eves explains that as a result of the growth of industrialization “the belief that rural neighborhoods and villages were declining in the late 1800s and early 1900s was widespread. Throughout the eastern United States, popular magazines and newspapers bemoaned what was termed the “dying small town problem” . . . Alarmed at what they perceived as the decline of rural life, many Americans organized the “Country Life Movement” to promote small town values, rural folkways, and a return to the land.” 4
J. Alden Weir Sketching

J. Alden Weir Sketching at his Windham Home
Courtesy, L. Tom Perry Special Collections,
Harold B. Lee Library,
Brigham Young University, Provo, UT

At his Connecticut farms, Weir rested from his busy life in the city, enjoyed the beauty of nature, spent time with family and friends, enjoyed fishing and hunting, and, of course, painted. Weir loved to host and entertain his artist friends in the country and he often painted with them outdoors. In the words of his daughter and biographer, "his heart was bound with the quiet rhythms of the land, with his family and his friends." 5