Thursday, February 9, 2023

Who was Julian Walbridge Rix?

The cover of December 6 1884 - Harper's Weekly

During the winter of 1884-85, Harper’s Weekly, A Journal of Civilization” ran two issues that contained articles dealing with the need for the State of New York to create a Forest Preserve to regulate the logging industry and protect water resources.  The first article ( Harper’s Weekly, Saturday, December 6, 1884 ) was accompanied by seven (7) drawings ( engravings ) by the artist Julian Walbridge Rix.  On the cover of that first issue were two (2) illustrations, titled “Destruction of the Adirondacks – Drawn by Julian Rix :  1. Great Burned Tract on the Road to Indian Lake  [and] 2. Ragged Mountain near Schroon River”. 

Further into that issue there were five (5) additional drawings by Rix in which he illustrated forest destruction brought about by mining, lumbering, and forest fire. The article had an accompanying text.  The actual author of that text is unknown but may have been C. S. Sargent.  Professor Charles S. Sargent’s byline does appear in the companion issue of Harper’s Weekly, Saturday, January 24, 1885.  Both articles are written in the same style and they both express the need for the State of New York to protect its mountainous forests. 

Charles Sprague Sargent was a Harvard University biologist whose career spanned 47 years from 1872 – 1919.  His influence was felt nationally on the conservation of American forests.  He advocated for preserving forests in a state of natural “wilderness” (Forever Wild) .  Sargent wrote in 1885:

“The water supply of the great rivers is already apparent and alarming.  Their summer flow has already been greatly affected. No more than two-thirds, and in many cases not one-half, as much water now flows during the summer months in the streams issuing from the Adirondack region as was seen in those streams a quarter of a century ago. . . .   If these [forests] are destroyed, the effect upon the streams of northern New York will be disastrous and their destruction upon existing conditions is simply a matter of time.  Fires [ slash left by logging, ignited by lightning, human activity, or the sparks from railroad locomotives ] are slowly but surely eating into these forests in all directions, and nothing but wise and comprehensive legislation, based a general and wide-spread knowledge of the value and importance of forests to the public welfare, can save them.”

But the drawings accompanying the 1885 article are perhaps the most impactful of all of Julian Rix’s works.

The cover of December 6 1884 - Harper's Weekly

Forest Destruction in the Adirondacks – The Effects of Logging and Burning Timber (pictured here) – Drawn by Julian Rix, A feeder of the Hudson – as it was, A feeder of the Hudson – as it is ( Harper’s Weekly, January 24, 1885 )

Over the years many authors have dealt with the history and the establishment of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, the predecessor to what we know today as the Adirondack Park.  Many of them have used the above illustrations to note what was and what could have been.  These illustrations ( engravings ) accompanied articles in the Harper’s Weekly issue from January 1885.

In New York, Julian Rix enjoyed commercial success with his oil paintings, watercolors, and his contract work with publishers like Collier’s Weekly and Harper’s Weekly.  His drawings would later be turned into engravings by the magazine’s staff.  The engravings were commissioned to accompany articles written about the need to establish and maintain water conservation measures in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. 

It is not known if Julian Rix ever actually met Verplanck Colvin or Seneca Ray Stoddard, but he definitely knew of them.  To quote Phillip Terrie in his book Forever Wild: A Cultural History of the Adirondacks (1994)

“The movers and shakers wanted to establish a picture in the public mind of a landscape destroyed by the ravages of irresponsible lumbering.  The specter of imminent disaster was constantly raised.  One of the most dramatic efforts to convince the public of the rape of the Adirondack landscape was a series of engravings by Julian Rix, published in Harper’s Weekly. In one issue Rix proffered a before-and-after depiction,  On the left he showed ” A Feeder of the Hudson-as-it was” There the reader beheld a rushing mountain stream, tumbling over boulders protected from the sun by towering ancient trees.  On the right was ” A Feeder of the Hudson – As it is”. There the reader saw a dry streambed between slopes covered with charred stumps stretching all the way to the horizon.  Accompanying these pictures was an article by Sargent, arguing that continued abuse of the landscape by loggers would reduce the Adirondacks “to the condition of a desert.”

The Harper’s Weekly article definitely got the public’s attention regarding extensive logging, the resultant erosion, and the dangers of forest fires.  The great storage reservoir, the “Adirondack sponge”, holding and retaining water could be lost to the detriment of all.

Julian Walbridge Rix was born in 1850 in Peacham, Vermont.  His father ( Alfred Rix ) and his uncles caught ” gold fever” and traveled to San Francisco.  The following year baby Julian and his mother ( Chastina Rix ) joined them.  Travel to California, in these days included a steamship from New York to the Isthmus of Panama; an overland trip through the Isthmus: and another steamer to San Francisco.  ( The Panama Canal would not be completed until 1914, and the Transcontinental Railroad would not be finished until 1869 ).

When his mother died four years later, his father sent him back east to live with relatives in Peacham, Vermont and gain a sound education.  In 1868 Julian Rix returned to San Francisco where he clerked in his father’s law office for a short time and then began working for a house and sign painter.   While painting signs he began painting landscapes, which drew positive attention from local art critics.  He may have received encouragement from Albert Bierstadt whose brother Edward was married to Julian’s aunt.

Photo #3: Photograph of Julian Walbridge Rix, apx. age 20,  ( Susan Kinsella Collection )

Photograph of Julian Walbridge Rix, apx. age 20,  ( Susan Kinsella Collection )

Despite his father’s disapproval of his art career, Julian spent a year back east painting in New England and New York before returning to San Francisco.  Rix was invited to join the Bohemian Club in 1876 when he was just 26 years old and there he became close friends with bohemian artist Jules Tavernier.  Julian Rix followed Tavernier to the artist colony in Monterey and the later shared a studio with him in San Francisco. 

During the 1870’s Rix became known for his paintings of the Pacific Coast Mountains, including the Oregon Coast.  Both he and Tavernier were considered early “tonalists”.  Tonalism was an artistic style derived from the French Barbizon style(c. 1830’s to the 1870’s).  Tonalism was a precursor of the impressionist movement.  American artist began to paint landscapes emphasizing mood and shadow, using earthy tones within a limited range, to establish atmosphere and feeling in their paintings often with a very limited somewhat muted colors.

Photos of other Adirondack engravings from Harper's Weekly ( December 6, 1884 )

Photos of other Adirondack engravings from Harper’s Weekly ( December 6, 1884 )

In the middle 1880’s during what is now called the “long depression” (then called the Great Depression ), spurred by the Panic of 1873, artists in the San Francisco area were finding it difficult to sell their works.  Julian Rix was one such artist.  He was denied support from his father, but fortunately the son of an east coast banker, silk merchant, and art collector admired his work.  John Ryle, from Patterson, New Jersey offered the 30-year-old an invitation to stay at his country estate in New Jersey while he got his art career on steady footing.  Eventually Rix was able to establish a studio in New York City and he maintained a lifelong friendship with John Ryle even becoming the godfather to Ryle’s daughter.

Julian Rix was popular with the bohemians, and was nicknamed “Adonis” for his imposing size and his blond good looks. After a failed romance with a sketching partner, Nellie Hopps, Rix became a lifelong bachelor.  It is at this point in 1880, when the financial slump hit the art world, that  Rix met Ryle.

Rather than follow the demise of his friend Jules Tavernier into alcoholism, Rix decided to abandon the bohemian lifestyle, that included smoking and drinking and establish his art career on the east coast.  Rix focused on his art and soon became a successful and acclaimed artist in New York.  He joined the Lotus Club traveled to Europe in 1889 ( sketching and painting in England, Germany, France and the Netherlands ).  Rix associated with many famous tonalist artists, among them Fredrick Remington.  Remington had a Rix painting “Adirondack “  in his personal, private collection.  That painting is still housed in the Tiffany Room at the Fredrick Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, New York.  A photo of the painting is below. 

Photo#4: Painting " Adirondack " by Julian W. Rix, property of the Fredrick Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, New York.

Painting ” Adirondack ” by Julian W. Rix, property of the Fredrick Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, New York.

Rix continued to send paintings to San Francisco for exhibition with the San Francisco Art Association and he regularly visited California for more source material.   In 1884 he created a series of forest drawings to illustrate the article in Harper’s Weekly, noted earlier. He also was noted for the engravings that were included in a popular book published in 1888 Picturesque California: The Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Slope, edited by John Muir. 

For the most part self-taught, Rix is most famous for his mastery of color and bold use of the palette knife.  After a visit to San Francisco in 1901 as his health was fading, Rix visited for the last time with his bohemian friends from his early painting years.

Not long after, in 1903, Julian Walbridge Rix died in his New York studio after an emergency kidney surgery at age 53.  Estranged from his family, Rix left his estate in the hands of his friend John Ryle.  Julian Rix was the godparent to Ryle’s daughter and he is buried in the Ryle’s family plot Patterson, New Jersey.

Photograph of Julian Rix in his New York City Studio (c. 1900 ) - Passaic County Historical Society.

Photograph of Julian Rix in his New York City Studio (c. 1900 ) – Passaic County Historical Society.

Image at top: The cover of December 6 1884 – Harper’s Weekly

The author would like to extend many thanks to Rick Rosen and Susan Kinsella for editing assistance.


Works Consulted:

Archives of askArt, Atrist Biography & Facts, “Julian Walbridge Rix”, blog post, 2021.

Bach, Alexander, ” An American Artist”, Quarterly Illustrator, Vol. l, 1893, JSTOR.

Barnhill, Georgia B., Wild Impressions the Adirondack on Paper, The Adirondack Museum & David R. Godine. 1995, p. 36.

Bonfield, Lynn A., Morrison, Mary C. Roxanna’s Children: The Biography of a Nineteenth-Century Vermont Family, University of Massachusetts Press, 1995, p. 98-114.

Bonfield, Lynn A., editor, New England to Gold Rush California: The Journal of Alfred and Christiana W. Rix ( 1849-1854). The Arthur H. Clark Company, Norman, Oklahoma, 2011.

Brown, Eleanor, The Forest Preserve of New York State: A Handbook for Conservationists, The Adirondack Mountain Club, 1985.

Chandler’ Susan,  Archive and Research Center Manager, Peacham Historical Association, March 2022, email correspondence.

Comstock, Edward, Independent Researcher, owner and operator of “Fine Art, Books ,and Antiques”, Former Curator at the Adirondack Museum, August, 2021, email correspondence.

Desmond, Laura, Curator and Educator, Fredrick Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY, Aug 2022, email correspondence.

Graham. Frank Jr., The Adirondack Park: A Political History, Syracuse University Press, 1978.

Harper’s Weekly,” The Adirondacks”,  Saturday, December 6, 1884, article p.805. drawings. cover and pages 802-803.

Harper’s Weekly, ” Forest Destruction”,  Saturday, January 24, 1885, Professor C. S. Sergeant, p. 58, drawings ” The Feeder of the Hudson as it is and The Feeder of the Hudson as it Was “. p. 56.

Hughes, Edan Milton, Artists in California (1789-1940). 2002, Sacramento, Crocker Gallery.

Keller, Eben, June, Adirondack Wilderness: A Story of Man and Nature, Syracuse University Press, 1980. p. 176.

Kinsella, Susan, Historian and Researcher, January 2022, email correspondence.

Kirby, Thomas E.., ” Catalogue of the Finished Pictures, Sketches, and Studies left by the Late Julian Rix “,  The American Art Association, Madison Squire South, New York, 1913.

Schneider, Paul, The Adirondacks: A History of America’s First Wilderness, Henry Holt and Co.  NY. 1997.

Passaic County Historical Society, Lambert Castle, Patterson, New Jersey, website

Terrie, Phillip, G., Forever Wild: A Cultural History of Wilderness, Syracuse University Press, 1994, p, 118-119.

Terrie, Phillip, C., Contested Terrain: A New History of Nature and People in the Adirondacks, second edition, The Adirondack Museum/ Syracuse University Press, 2008, p. 95.

Thistlethwaite, Mark, Kimbell, Kay and Velma, ” The Tragedy of the Trees “, blog ” Another Frontier: Fredrick Remington East “ Sid Richardson Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, December 2018.

Welch, Caroline Martin, editor, Director Eremites Adirondack Museum,, Adirondack Prints and Print Makers: Call of the Wild, The Adirondack Museum,  Syracuse University Press, 1995. p. 66-68.

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Mike Prescott is a former history teacher and secondary school principal who found a new retirement avocation in paddling Adirondack waters and exploring their history. Mike is a retired New York State Licensed Guide, and also volunteers with the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, the Raquette River Blueway Corridor, the New York State Trails Council and with the Adirondack Mountain Club. Feel free to contact him at


4 Responses

  1. Bibi Wein says:

    Excellent article!

  2. Dan Way says:

    Wow- what an outstanding article- I was not aware of Rix’s career or contributions to preserving the Adirondacks! Thanks Mike for your usual informative, encyclopedia-quality research!

  3. Bill Gonyea says:

    Another great article Mike!

  4. Bob Connelly says:

    Thanks, Mike, for an enjoyable, informative article. I really liked Julian’s art for its own beauty but also for how it helped advance a good cause.

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