Santa's Whiskers


St. Nicholas

Robert Weir

In 1837 Robert Weir, West Point drawing instructor and friend of Moore’s, produced a painting of a clean shaven elfin character about to leave through the chimney clad in a red cape and with an almost frightening expression on his face. 

Born in New Ropchelle, New York, in 1803, Weir was the son of a failed businessman. In the early part of his life he lacked the basic comforts of life and found refuge in painting. At nineteen, while in New York, he studied anatomy at NYU’s medical school and studied art independently, taking a few lessons from friends John Wesley Jarvis and Robert Cox.

During the early 1820’s Weir began to paint professionally, but still had no strong background in artistic training. When a few of his works were noticed by the public, businessmen in New York and Philadelphia financed his educational trip to Italy, where he lived in Florence and Rome.

Upon returning to New York he became a leading artist who illustrated a number of important gift books. In 1831 he was elected a member of the National Academy of Design in New York, and three years later he became the head instructor of drawing at West Point Academy. He held this title for the next 42 years. According to one source he was better known for his teaching than his artwork. Among his most prestigious students were the Civil War generals Grant and Lee.

He was primarily a historic and portrait painter. Later in life he lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, and died there in 1889.

Like others before him, he was a member of the gentlemen’s society, the Knickerbockers, and his portrayal of St. Nicholas was inspired in part by the descriptions of a fellow Knickerbocker, Washington Irving.