Born in 1865 on the fourth of July 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 Roycrofts. 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.
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′ 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. Its location is still unknown.
In addition to his activities with Roycroft, Alexis J. Fournier painted at the artist colonies in Woodstock, New York; Provincetown, Massachusetts; and Brown County, Indiana.