The Art of Alexis Jean Fournier
Minneapolis residents are have come to love the iconic Stone Arch Bridge overlooking the St. Anthony Falls, drive past Lowry Hill and relax on their stroll around Lake Harriet. These landmarks have been enjoyed by people from the past and present for different reasons and in different ways as time has changed them. Landscape painter Alexis Jean Fournier passionately recorded them in the late 19th Century, leaving us a glimpse into the past in our ever changing city.
Fournier, born 1865, made a career out of his love for the outdoors. The talented artist was witty and charming, recording the many moods of nature. His style was not French Impressionist nor tonalist, but used light in a “luminist” way, where light defines form. Unlike impressionists, he wasn’t concentrated on the spontaneous and fleeting moment in front of him, but rather, focused on documenting a concrete time and place. His paintings capture a critical moment in American history during the transition from rural life to an industrial nation.
Looking at his works today, we are able to glimpse into the time and place that he so remarkably painted. Though the location of the paintings still exist, they are forever changed into a new place through the passing of time. In Mill Pond at Minneapolis (Fig. 1), we see the Stone Arch Bridge and the tracks of James J. Hill’s Railroad company. Built in 1883, just five years before Fournier painted it, it was new and thrilling, allowing for increased movement across the river. Today, it is a place a leisure, a symbol of the railroad era.
His emphasis on the rapid changes taking place lead him to paint the St. Anthony Falls as they appeared throughout history. Taking notes from previous artists such as George Catlin and Seth Eastman, he painted the falls as they would have looked in 1786 (Fig 2.) and in 1840 (Fig. 3). He painted the falls as they actually appeared to Fournier in 1890, with the Church of St. Mary of Lourdes in the background. It was one of his most ambitious pieces, three feet by five feet, for James J. Hill’s mansion. The church, still standing today, is now harder to view from the river due to its surrounding cafes, bars, shops, and the Nicollet Hotel.
His other paintings of Minneapolis, such as Lake Harriet by Moonlight, place the viewer within the painting, rather than above the scene, to give them a sense of intimacy. In Lake Harriet, he explores the use of light to convey mystery and romance. There is a sense of stillness and appreciation for the scene that viewers today can relate to. Lowry Hill (Fig. 5) and Fort Snelling (Fig. 6) speak of the evolution of Minneapolis and allow us to step back into time.
To learn more about Fournier’s life and works in our gallery, view his biography.