Alexis Jean Fournier

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Alexis Jean Fournier (American, 1865-1948) was born on the fourth of July, 1865 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Alexis Jean Fournier was one of the most flamboyant and enduring figures of the Arts and Crafts movement and was also an Impressionist painter of major importance in Minneapolis from 1883 to 1893. Fournier, a Barbizon-style artist, whose career as the "Roycroft Court Painter" spanned over forty-five years, has been lauded as one of the most prolific artists of the Arts and Crafts period as well as an influential force in Elbert Hubbard's Roycroft community in East Aurora, New York.

Although the photography career of his son Paul was comparatively less impressive in terms of longevity and notoriety, the works of both the elder and the younger Fournier helped diversify and change American art history as well as contribute to the progressive thinking of the Roycroft. Had photography been considered an art form on the level of Barbizon and Impressionist painting during the Arts and Crafts era, perhaps the younger Fournier would have enjoyed a career as successful and praised as that of the elder.

Fournier was born in St.Cloud, Minnesota, to French Canadian parents. By age 14, he was working as a sign painter and scenery artist for vaudeville and, although he had virtually no formal artistic training, had sold several pieces, mostly landscapes, by the time he was 16. In 1886 he became a student of Douglas Volk, ultimately setting up a professional studio in Minneapolis.

One of Fournier's patrons was J.J. Smith, who hired Fournier to be the staff artist on an archaeological trip to the Southwest. Following this trip, Fournier painted a 50 x 12 foot panoramic mural called "The Cliff Dwellers." The painting was intended for exhibit at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, where it is likely, but not documented, that Fournier met Elbert Hubbard for the first time.

Hubbard, the beloved spiritual guide and business leader of the Roycroft community of artisans and craftspeople, would eventually become one of Fournier's greatest patrons and admirers. "The Cliff Dwellers" ultimately disappeared, having been sold without record, and its location is still unknown.

In addition to his activities with the Roycroft, Fournier painted at the artist colonies in Woodstock, New York; Provincetown, Massachusetts; and Brown County, Indiana.

Of further note, soon after Fournier had arrived in East Aurora, NY in 1903 to work at Elbert Hubbard’s famed Roycroft Arts & Crafts Campus, he decided to form a local Paint and Varnish Club. The club was co-organized by fellow Roycroft artist Eleanor Douglas (Canadian-American, 1872-1914) and a select few artists met regularly at Eleanor’s School House Studio which was located at 48 Douglas Lane (originally 61 Hamburg Street, Willink, NY), now East Aurora, NY. Though it seems the Club didn’t last very long, it was later revived around 1917 by Merle James (American, 1890-1963), whose daughter Betsy married the famous American artist Andrew Wyeth. James was the art director of the Roycroft and designed for the FRA and other Roycroft publications from 1917-1924. He then became the Advertising Manager and Editor of the Rotogravure Department of the Buffalo Courier-Express. More can be read about the East Aurora Paint and Varnish Club (c.1904-c.1935) on its artist page on our website.

(Sources, with permission from AskArt prior submission: Roycroft's Court Painter and His Photo Secessionist Son Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art Ann Haselbauer - Just Glass - 7/16/02; and our internal records.)

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Alexis Fournier received his earliest art training as a sign painter and then as a student at the Minneapolis School of Art. The support of Twin Cities businessmen made it possible for the young artist to pursue his studies in France with the masters of the Academie Julian, which steeped him in the tradition of open-air painting associated with the Barbizon School.

Fournier worked in sets or groups of paintings from an early date. In the late 1880s he painted a series of canvases along the Mississippi River near Minneapolis. Over the next two decades he painted a collection he called “Homes and Haunts of the Barbizon Masters,” twenty canvases depicting the houses of Millet, Daubigny, and other French masters, in homage to their plein-air style. The series was exhibited in various American cities, but was dispersed to private collections.

In addition to his Minnesota connections, Fournier is also associated with the Brown County Impressionist painters of Indiana. His works in that area are frequently high-keyed in their brilliant color, with richly worked surfaces. Fournier also had a long residence in East Aurora, near Buffalo, New York, in association with Elbert Hubbard’s Roycroft colony there. His landscapes are typically atmospheric views of pleasant countryside, often with idyllic traces of human occupation in the form of houses, gardens, or flocks.

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(Sources, with permission from AskArt prior submissions: Written and submitted by Thomas O'Sullivan, museum curator and freelance writer. Citations: Rena Neumann Coen, IN THE MAINSTREAM: THE ART OF ALEXIS JEAN FOURNIER (1985). Rena Neumann Coen, MINNESOTA IMPRESSIONISTS (1996). William H. Gerdts, AMERICAN IMPRESSIONISM (1984). Michael Conforti, ed., MINNESOTA 1900: ART AND LIFE ON THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI 1890-1915 (1994). Museums; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis MN, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul MN, Minnesota Museum of American Art, St Paul MN, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame IN.)