PART 2 - JULIAN’S DEVELOPMENT AS AN ARTIST(In which I "interview" Julian and compare our experiences as cousins living in San Francisco in different centuries - see genealogy in Part 1)
See Part 1, Julian’s Early Years in San Francisco, here
(Also note that if you click on the photos, many will open in much larger formats on a photo page - especially many of the paintings.)
(Also note that if you click on the photos, many will open in much larger formats on a photo page - especially many of the paintings.)
|Julian Walbridge Rix, about 21 (~1872)|
A San Francisco document from 1868 locates the Hopps business at 212 Sansome Street, in the heart of today's financial district, at the corner with Pine Street. Again, it is an area I know well. For several years, I worked for an environmental paper company with its offices in an old railroad engine roundhouse by the wharves at the end of Sansome.
Julian turned his apprenticeship in house painting into his entrée into the artistic life that he craved. He had already begun drawing during his teen years when he lived in Vermont. Now, as a house and sign painter, he soon blossomed into also painting on canvas, and went from etchings into oil paintings, watercolor and pastels. When Julian announced his intention to become a full-time artist, his father was appalled and refused to help him financially. But his little brother, Edward, stood by him. Later, when Edward graduated as a mechanical engineer in the first class of California’s new university in Berkeley, he started his own business and made good on his promise, helping Julian when finances were tight. Julian, in turn, repaid him with gifts of his landscape paintings.
The first record of Julian’s success was in 1872, when he exhibited an oil painting at a local art gallery, the Snow and Roos. The local newspaper praised it, noting that it “has great merit for a first attempt from nature and gives promise of talent.”
|Sunshine and Shadows, Julian Walbrige Rix, 1876|
SUSAN: Julian, tell me about how you learned to paint landscapes. Some people today think that you might have studied with Albert Bierstadt because he often worked closely with your Uncle Edward, his brother, who was a photographer and printer. Both of them were in San Francisco when you were there.
JULIAN: No, I met Albert a few times and I greatly admired his paintings, but I did not study with him. I gained all my artistic ability on my own. San Francisco was bursting with talented artists in the 1870s – painters, poets, writers, actors, musicians, so much creative talent when I was living there! After New York City, San Francisco was the most prolific art center in America, even though the city had actually only burst into being a couple of decades before. And what a time it was! Robert Louis Stevenson was there, and Oscar Wilde came through at one point as well. We were all great friends, sharing art studios and painting techniques and learning so much from each other.
|Sunset In Yosemite|
Julian Walbridge Rix
In 1876, Julian was invited to join the recently founded Bohemian Club, originally a gathering of journalists, artists and musicians. Today it is better known for the heavy-weight politicians and wealthy businessmen who join its secret summer revels - men only - in the woods north of San Francisco. But in Julian’s day, it fit right in as an extension of the wild artistic life that he and his friends created in the city. Each year it held an art exhibition, where artists displayed and sold their paintings and drawings. In the summers, it organized exuberant and often ribald revels in the woods by the Russian River, 75 miles north of San Francisco.
Many of Julian’s closest friends were fellow Bohemian Club members. When not carousing in San Francisco, the artists often made extended trips together up and down the Pacific Coast and throughout California, camping for weeks at a time while they turned out dozens of glorious landscape paintings.
JULIAN: Ah, yes, two of my favorite places to paint were the Sacramento River valley and Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate.
SUSAN: I totally understand. I lived for several years in Sacramento and now for the past more than 20 years I have lived in Marin County. You’ll be glad to know that the whole western half of the county has been preserved as open space, so many of the places you painted probably still look just as they did when you were here.
|Sacramento River At Sunset, Julian Walbridge Rix, 1876|
|Jules Tavernier, 1844-1889|
Julian was especially close to Jules Tavernier, a wildly talented painter from France and a firecracker of a guy who lived a particularly dissolute life. Many of Jules’ considerable troubles seemed to stem from his belief that tasks such as paying bills were just too mundane to hold his attention.
|A Balloon In Mid-Air, Jules Tavernier, 1875|
SUSAN: Julian, tell me about when you and Jules shared a studio in San Francisco.
JULIAN: Oh, yes. Life was always wild with Jules. Our studio was at 758 Montgomery Street, near the corner of Jackson Street. He did magnificent paintings, and sometimes we even did paintings together. He always had something going. He couldn’t sit still for a minute; he always had to be moving.
SUSAN: Apparently part of why he was always moving was because he often skipped out on his bills.
JULIAN: Well, yes, he was a bit loose with those kinds of things. Most of the time, we made our rent enough to keep our place, but then . . . . I guess it doesn’t matter anymore if I tell this story . . . . We were down on our luck, for about the hundredth time - you know, starving artists and all. Actually, to be honest, we were desperate to figure out how to bring in enough money to pay our rent. We’d run out of time. In fact, our rent was overdue and we were being threatened with losing the rest of our paintings to make good on it. But Jules had a patron who agreed to pay $300 for a painting we had made together. So he went to the patron’s house to collect the money.
On his way back, he noticed that Roman’s bookstore was having a sale of rare books, so he stopped in, just to look, you know. But before he left he’d spent $245 of our $300.
SUSAN: You’re kidding! Your rent money!?!
JULIAN: Yes, and not only that, after spending most of it, he figured the rest didn’t matter anymore, so he stopped into some more shops along the way home. I didn’t know anything about this until he got back and danced excitedly through the door of our studio, with a big book under each arm and a parade of clerks carrying armfuls more.
I got a horrified suspicion and screamed at him, “Where’s the money?” A huge grin spread across Jules’s face and he told me, as if this was the best present ever, “Here are the books! And the wines and cigars will be along presently!” I nearly fainted. I was sure that all was lost.
And, indeed, it was. Next day the Sheriff came, put a huge lock on our studio door, and stationed a guard outside, preparing to empty out all our paintings and equipment. But Jules . . . he was certainly the most intensely creative person I have ever known. He also realized that the Sheriff didn’t know that our studio had a large window in its roof. That’s why we loved that studio, it had such great light.
So Jules got one of his young pupils, a Spaniard, and convinced him to come up on the roof with us. There, he opened the window, tied a rope to a hook and lowered the pupil into the studio. Forthwith, the student gathered up everything we had in there of value and, one by one, tied them to the rope so we could hoist them up. At the end, we hoisted him up, too, and quickly got away. So when the Sheriff arrived to unlock the big lock he had put on that fiercely guarded door . . . he opened our studio to find that it was empty!
Jules Tavernier was also a magnetic leader within their artistic community. When, in 1876, he decided to move to Monterey, then just a small sleepy fishing village, to concentrate on painting its quaint fishing scenes and beautiful coastal landscapes, Julian moved with him and opened a studio in the French Hotel. So many of their other friends moved with them as well that they established an influential artist colony there. Even Robert Louis Stevenson joined the colony in late 1879, spending several months there writing Old Pacific Capital. Today the French Hotel is called the Stevenson House and is a California State Park.
While in Monterey, Jules Tavernier married, although the relationship was always volatile. Julian, however, had no such luck.
SUSAN: Julian, if you’re willing to talk about this, I’d like to know what happened with Nellie Hopps.
JULIAN: Oh, now you’re really slaying me. My heart aches just thinking about her.
|Forest Scene by Nellie Hopps|
JULIAN: No, no, after all this time, I might as well talk about her. She was the daughter of Charles Hopps, the house painter I was first apprenticed to. My father figured that I’d get to play with paint there and give up my notions of being a fine artist. Instead, I quickly graduated from painting signs to selling landscape paintings in the San Francisco art galleries. And over time I fell in love with Nellie. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.
SUSAN: Apparently you were pretty handsome yourself. I found an article about local artists in the San Francisco Chronicle that refers to you, when you were 26, as “the Adonis of the Profession.”
JULIAN: Where did you ever hear that?!? I am shocked that something like that would not be kept private!
SUSAN: Ha, ha! Not only is the San Francisco Chronicle still around, but there is no privacy left these days. You wouldn’t believe the kinds of things that get printed! But tell me more about Nellie.
JULIAN: I only wish she’d agreed with the newspaper article . . . . She was a mighty fine painter herself. We used to go off on rambles in the country – Marin County and Mt. Tamalpais were among our favorites - and set up our easels wherever we found a scene that pleased us. Then we would paint all day and often camp for a couple weeks at a time, producing painting after painting.
SUSAN: Oh, I love Mt. Tamalpais, too! I used to lead hikes on the full moon there for many years. Every one of them was different, even when we went on the same trails, and all were such great adventures! I can understand why you two loved it. It sounds like you were made for each other. Whatever happened?
Mt. Tamalpais Landscape, Julian Walbridge Rix
JULIAN: She knew I wanted to marry her and she turned me down. Then she went flaunting her supposedly broken heart all over San Francisco. But secretly, she was seeing another man. Eventually she told me she was in love with him and they were going to be married. That’s when I bolted. Just got on a train – because by then the railroad had been finished across the country – and left for the East Coast. At the time, I thought I was just going for a few months. But I ended up staying there and opening a studio in New York City. I had to get away from all the pain I left behind in San Francisco.
SUSAN: Ah, yes, well, San Francisco is known for being the place where people leave their hearts.
JULIAN: I never did get over Nellie, never found anyone else I wanted to marry. My one regret was that I didn’t tell my Aunt Clara before I left San Francisco, and for years she thought I had run away from her, too.
In 1881, Nellie may have motivated Julian to run away from San Francisco. But a financial slump had also hit the art world, the city’s art collectors had shifted their allegiance from local artists to European scenes and artists, he was down to his last dollars, and his friend Jules was descending into alcoholism. Fortunately for Julian, a businessman from New Jersey, William T. Ryles, traveled to San Francisco and was quite taken with his paintings. He loaned Julian $6,000 to establish a new studio at his summer estate in Patterson, NJ and another later in New York City, and became his art patron for the rest of Julian’s life. Ryles and his wife also became close friends with Julian and, ultimately, Julian left most of his artistic estate to them when he died.
|Winter, Julian Walbridge Rix, 1880|
|California Coast, Sunset by Julian Walbridge Rix|
In 1885, Julian created a series of forest drawings to illustrate an article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. In 1888, a number of his etchings were used to illustrate a widely popular book titled Picturesque California, the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Slope, which was edited by the famous naturalist, John Muir.
SUSAN: Julian, it’s now more than 110 years since you died in 1903. Do you know that your paintings are still in demand? They’re in great art museums all around the country, and they still sell well at the big art auction houses.
JULIAN: Really? I sure wish they would have sold better when I lived in San Francisco.
SUSAN: You might also be interested to know that many of the businesses that you probably knew in your San Francisco days are still here. I drop into the Boudin Bakery when I’m in the city for their French sourdough bread that they developed here in 1849, and I often give Ghirardelli chocolates as gifts. Everyone still wears Levi's jeans - including women! I even wonder if you might have had a bank account at my bank, Wells Fargo, which opened here the year before you arrived as a toddler.
JULIAN: It would have helped if I had had enough money to put in a bank when I lived in San Francisco!
SUSAN: And Julian, you won’t believe this, but I also have a copy of the journal your parents wrote together when you were born.
JULIAN: What! Now you’re really flabbergasting me. How could you possibly have that?
SUSAN: It was passed down in your father’s family and eventually shared with an archivist who transcribed, edited and published it. Your parents’ stories about your first steps, your first haircut, and your first words are now available for everyone in the world to read. For the record, by the way, your mother said that some of those first words were “horse and wagon” and, when asked about your father, “Papa in Fannyforny.”
JULIAN: I am dumbfounded. I don’t even know what to say.
SUSAN: Well, I just want you to know that you’re not forgotten, not by your family nor by the larger world. And I’m so delighted that we could spend this time a’cousining together. Thanks, Cuz!
JULIAN: Hey, how about rambling with me on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin?
SUSAN: Next full moon - It’s a deal!