Old Row (Fort Snelling) from the Station, July 1888, 1888
Oil on canvas
The flowering of the arts in late nineteenth-century Minnesota yielded many talented artists but probably none as well known to local collectors as Alexis Jean Fournier (1865-1948). Prolific in his output, he captured on canvas the significant landmarks, both natural and man-made, that have captivated Minnesotans from his day to ours.
Though born on the western edge of St. Paul, Fournier spent his youth in Wisconsin—where he first became interested in art. Moving to Minneapolis in 1879, he continued to acquire skills while supporting himself by painting signs, murals, and theater scenery. The realism of Fournier's landscapes had already attracted several local admirers by 1886, and the patronage of lumber barons T. B. Walker and James J. Hill, and grain merchant Frank H. Peavey, played a key role in furthering the artist's career through purchases or commissions. The financial rewards of such support allowed Fournier the luxury of time to concentrate on his career, to travel, and to exhibit more often. His main forum for local exposure was the Minneapolis Industrial Exposition, inaugurated in 1886, in which he participated annually, and where in 1892 he was honored with his own gallery.
Fournier's departure for Paris in 1893 (funded by Hill, Edward Burton, and Herschel V. Jones) marked a turning point in the artist's career. The training he acquired at the Académie Julian introduced greater naturalism to his work, which juries rewarded with acceptance to the Salons of 1894 and 1895. Following his return to Minnesota, Fournier made repeated visits to France, an indication of his increasing interest in that country. France offered new subject matter and a deep artistic fellowship he craved—and hoped to duplicate back home. The desire to find such camaraderie was, no doubt, a factor in Fournier's decision in 1903 to accept the invitation of Elbert Hubbard to join the arts and crafts community of the Roycrofters in East Aurora, New York. While there, he executed his series of canvases documenting the studios, homes, and haunts of the French Barbizon painters he so admired.
In 1922 Fournier relocated to South Bend, Indiana, and through his new association with a colony of artists in Brown County, fully embraced the practice of plein-air painting and the high-key palette of Impressionism. The influence of his Indiana sojourn persisted in the artist's work, even after his return to East Aurora in 1937, where he lived out his final years.