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Victor Higgins

 (1884 - 1949)
Victor Higgins was active/lived in New Mexico, Illinois, Indiana.  Victor Higgins is known for Indian genre, landscape and portrait painting.

Victor Higgins

Biography from the Archives of askART

A key member of the Taos, New Mexico Society of Artists, Victor Higgins seemed much more influenced by modernist, abstract art than the other members although much of his work seemed realistic.  From 1920, he was combining Impressionism with Cubism and painting mostly landscapes reduced to basic shapes, giving a sense of visual rhythm and showing geometric relationships of form and design.

He was a native of a farming community in Indiana who was inspired towards art by an itinerant sign painter.  He studied briefly at the Art Institute of Chicago, having left home for Chicago at the age of 15 and studying with E. Martin Hennings and Walter Ufer.  For four years, he traveled in Europe and studied in Munich, and in 1912 returned to Chicago where an exhibition of his work at the Palette and Chisel Club earned him national attention and the esteemed Gold Medal.

Higgins was profoundly affected at the Armory Show of 1913 in New York by works of Marcel Duchamp and Marsden Hartley, and from that time, he went through several phases of modernism.  In 1915, he became a permanent resident of Taos, New Mexico because of the patronage of Chicago mayor and art patron Carter Harrison who was a key person in getting Chicago artists to paint in Taos.  Harrison had become alerted to Higgins' skill at the 1912 Palette and Chisel Club exhibit.  Throughout his career, Higgins had many collectors from Chicago, and he made good money for his painting during his lifetime.

In his painting, he depicted the seemingly unchanging culture of the Pueblo Indians and their inherent dignity as they went about their daily life.  He was known as a formal, business minded man who painted in a three-piece suit.

Dean Porter, Taos Artists
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born Shelbyville, IN, June 28, 1884 and died in Taos, NM, Aug. 23, 1949, Victor Higgins, born William Victor Higgins, was a painter who specialized in Native Americans and New Mexican genre.

He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Academy of Fine Art.  Higgins went to Europe in 1910, studying first at the Academie de la Grand Chaumiere, Paris under Réné Ménard and 104 Lucien Simon and then in Munich with Hans von Hyeck.  It was in Munich he met fellow painter Walter Ufer.

He returned to Chicago in 1914 then went to Taos to paint a landscape on commission. He taught at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, 1917-23, but spent his summer in Taos in 1917.

He created murals for the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, MO in 1919.  He was ommissioned to do a mural in the Herington Post Office, 1923.  Many of his papers are now available in the Museum of Fine Arts Library in Santa Fe.

Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Wiebe, Joanna K. “Kansans Cared About their New Deal Art”, in Wichita Eagle Beacon, May 21, 1972. p.1E & 7E-----. “Local Legends Live in Art”, in Wichita Eagle Beacon, May 22, 1972. p.1A & 3A-----. “Age Enhances Fort Scott Mural”, in Wichita Eagle Beacon, May 23, 1972. p.1A & 8A-----. “Halstead Legend Perpetuated”, in Wichita Eagle Beacon, May 24, 1972. p.1A & 16A -----. “Scenics, Murals and Lithographs Included in Kansas New Deal Art”, in Wichita Eagle Beacon, May 25, 1972. p.15A.; Samuels, Peggy. Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1976.; American Art Annual. New York: American Federation of Arts, 1898-194714/18/20/22/24/26; Who’s Who in American Art. New York: American Federation of Arts, 1936- v.1=1936-37 v.3= 1941-42 v.2=1938-39 v.4=1940-47.1; Clark, Eliot. History of the National Academy of Design, 1825-1953. New York: Columbia University Press, 1954.; Porter, Dean A, Teresa Hayes Ebie, Suzan Campbell. Taos Artists and Their Patrons, 1898-1950. South Bend, IN: Snite Museum of Art, 1999.; AskArt,, accessed Dec. 20, 2005; Porter, Dean A, Teresa Hayes Ebie, Suzan Campbell. Taos Artists and Their Patrons, 1898-1950. South Bend, IN: Snite Museum of Art, 1999., Dean A. Victor Higgins, American Master (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1991)

This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery
Born William Victor Higgins in 1884 to a Shelbyville, Indiana farm family where the only art Victor was aware of as a child was his father's love of flowers. "He loved their forms and their colors, and he tended his garden as a painter might work a canvas." At the age of nine, Victor met a young artist who traveled the Indiana countryside painting advertisements on the sides of barns. He purchased paints and brushes so the young Higgins could practice his own artwork on the inside of his father's barn. He also taught Victor about art museums and especially about the new Chicago Art Institute. This information never left the young artist, and he saved his allowance until his father allowed him at the age of fifteen to attend Chicago Art Institute. He worked a variety of jobs to finance his studies both there and at the Academy of Fine Arts.

Victor Higgins traveled to New York in 1908, where he met Robert Henri, who became a significant influence by depicting every-day scenes and stressing the importance of the spirit and sense of place as important factors in painting. Higgins was also greatly affected by the New York Armory Modernism Show of Marsden Hartley in 1913.

While Victor Higgins was in Chicago he met former mayor and avid collector Carter H. Harrison who was to prove instrumental in the growth of Higgins career for several years. Harrison agreed to support Higgins for four years to go to Paris and Munich and paint and study in the great museums in Europe. While at the Academie de la Grande Chaumier in Paris (1910-1914) he met Walter Ufer, who was another Chicago artist being sponsored by Carter Harrison. This meeting was not only a life-long friendship, but the beginning of a great change in the way Higgins looked at "American" art. He decided that America needed it's own authentic style rather than the 19th Century classic style he was taught in Europe. Very soon after returning to Chicago in 1914, Harrison sent him and Walter Ufer on a painting trip to Taos, New Mexico for a year in exchange for paintings. Higgins made other similar agreements and was able to support himself with his painting. This trip was a life-changing experience and introduced Higgins to the authentic America he had been looking for.

In 1914 Taos was an isolated village about twelve hours from Santa Fe on an impossible dirt road. But the colorful life of the pueblo people and the natural beauty drew a collection of artists who became the Taos art colony, from which the Taos Society of Artists was founded in 1915. Victor Higgins became a permanent resident within a year of his arrival and a member of the society in 1917, exhibiting with Jane Peterson in 1925 and with Wayman Adams and Janet Scudder in 1927. The members would travel around the country introducing the Southwest scenes with great success. He remained a member until the Society's dissolution in 1927. Higgins was the youngest member of the group of seven. Other members were Joseph Henry Sharp, Bert Phillips, Ernest Blumenschein, Oscar Berninghaus, Irving Couse and Walter Ufer.

His studies at the Royal Academy of Munich were at a time when a type of realism was encouraged by spontaneously reacting to the subject rather than preliminary drawing. Higgins was credited with bringing modernism to realism, which he practiced successfully as he sold his work in Chicago, Indianapolis, New York and occasionally to Europe during 1917-1919. He also changed his subject matter from the pueblo Indians to more experimental landscapes and even nudes (using local Native Americans as models). In 1918 Higgins was awarded the First Logan Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago and the First Altman Prize at the National Academy of Design, New York for "Fiesta Day". But there was controversy around the awarding of the prize because of the artist's stylistic approach to Native American subject matter that had been greatly idealized on canvas prior to this time. Possibly because of feeling that his audience missed the point, Victor Higgins concentrated for the next three decades on Impressionism, Cubism and Modernism. He continued to win awards at exhibitions in Luxembourg, France and the Venice Biennale. In 1921 he was elected to the National Academy.

The landscape became his primary focus with some still life and portrait work. Having met Dasburg and Marin in Taos, he experimented with multi-point perspective and interlocking planes. By the 1930s he had completely departed from his academic training and exhibited a strong cubist influence in his oil painting and the many watercolors he created.

Victor Higgins was married briefly to Sara Parsons (daughter of painter Sheldon Parsons) and to Marion Kooglen McNay of San Antonio, but the artwork seemed to be his primary relationship.

In the 1940s which became his final years, he painted a series of oils that he called "Little Gems". They were small landscapes which, in his three-piece suit, he painted from a setup in the trunk of his vehicle. Some of his friends including Ernest Blumenschein felt they were his best works ever. He was known to have commented, "This last group of pictures I shall never forget. In them was the best Higgins quality, a lyrical charm added to his lovely color...He always had, as do most good artists, an instinct that guided his form structure... And he put all he had into this dozen of small canvases...All works of love: love of his simple subjects and of his craftsmanship." Victor Higgins died in 1949, signaling to many the end of the Taos art colony as it had been.


1. Richmond Art Museum
2. Eiteljorg Museum
3. "Art in New Mexico, 1900-1945 Paths to Taos and Santa Fe": Eldrege, Schimmel, Truettner
4. "Artists of the 20th Century, NM" The Museum of Fine Arts Collection
5. "The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier", Dr. Rick Stewart

Biography from Spanierman Gallery
Victor Higgins gained renown as a key member of the artists' colony in Taos, New Mexico, during the first half of the twentieth century.  Lauded for his ability to capture the distinctive light and color of the American Southwest in a style that bridged the gap between academicism and modernism, he was also linked with the art scene of Chicago, where his oils and watercolors found favor with many local collectors.

Higgins was born on a farm in Shelbyville, Indiana, on 28 June 1884. He developed an interest in art as a boy, especially after meeting John Cornelius, a sign painter from Indianapolis who spoke enthusiastically about the museums, galleries and art schools of Chicago.  Intent on pursuing an artistic career, Higgins moved to Chicago in 1899, going on to study at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.  He later supported himself by doing odd jobs, including working in a sign shop and doing theatre decorations.  After making a trip to California in 1910, he went to New York, where he met the painters George Bellows and Robert Henri, who encouraged him further his education abroad.

Desirous of refining his skills, Higgins traveled to Europe in 1911.  After a period of activity in St. Ives, Cornwall, he went to Germany, studying with Hans von Hayek in Munich and exhibiting his work at the Club of American Artists, where his fellow members included the painter Walter Ufer.  From there, he went to Belgium and then to Paris, attending classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière under René Menard and Lucien Simon.  In 1913, he was back in Chicago in time to see the legendary Armory Show (International Exhibition of Modern Art), which prompted his interest in progessive painting strategies.  Higgins then began teaching at the Academy of the Fine Arts and exhibiting his work at local venues. His paintings soon caught the eye of Carter Harrison, an art collector and former mayor of Chicago who commissioned him to paint the scenery of New Mexico.  In 1914, Higgins traveled to Taos with the aforementioned Ufer and was immediately fascinated by the American Indian population and the picturesque beauty of his surroundings.

Higgins's affinity for the culture and landscape of Taos was such that he decided to settle there permanently; both he and Ufer became members of the Taos Society of Artists, a group of artists that included Joseph Sharp, E. Irving Couse, Oscar Berninghaus, Bert Phillips and W. Herbert Dunton.  As Higgins once stated:

"There is in the mind of every member of the Taos art colony the knowledge that here is the oldest of American civilizations.  The manners and customs and style of architecture are the same today that they were before Christ was born.  They offer the painter a subject as full of the fundamental qualities of life as did the Holy Land."

Higgins went on to establish a reputation for his striking portrayals of the Taos Indians, which he conceived in terms of simplified forms and rich hues.  However, during the 1920s, he turned increasingly to landscape subjects, taking great delight in the spectacular shapes and colors of the local mountains, as well as the ever-changing moods of its expansive skies.  Throughout this period, he continued to favor stylized shapes and carefully structured designs, although his palette shifted from the ocher and earth tones of his early New Mexican period to a brighter chromatic range.

In the 1930s, as avant-garde painting became increasing accepted in Chicago art circles, Higgins evolved his style further; influenced by the example of American Modernists such as Andrew Dasburg and John Marin, whom he met in Taos, as well as by his familiarity with the landscapes of Paul Cézanne, he began to incorporate geometric tendencies into his work, exploring such devices as the interpenetrating planes and varying perspectives of Cubism.  In the late 1940s, Higgins produced his well-known "little gems"--lyrical plein-air paintings of the Rio Grande that were much admired for their deft handling of light and color and their thick, impastoed surfaces.

After settling in the Southwest, Higgins continued to maintain a residence and exhibit his work in Chicago, where he retained a devoted following of patrons, including many businessmen and industrialists.  He was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including the gold medal of the Palette and Chisel Club of Chicago (1914); the Chicago Municipal Art League Prize (1915); the first Logan Medal of the Chicago Art Institute (1918); and the first Altman prizes at the National Academy of Design (1918, 1927, 1932), among other honors.  He was elected an academician of the National Academy of Design in New York in 1935 and also served as a trustee of the Harwood Foundation in Taos.  His professional affiliations also included Allied Artists of America and the Chicago Artists Society.

Higgins died in Taos on 23 August 1949 at the age of sixty-five.  Examples of his work can be found in many public and private collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Union League Club of Chicago; the Dallas Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas; the Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe; the Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, New Mexico; the Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


© The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC, nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

Biography from The Owings Gallery
For those of us who were unable to experience Taos during the first half of this century, it is Victor Higgins and his wealth of oils and watercolors that bring us closest to Taos. Victor Higgins was born in 1884 on a small farm in Shelbyville, Indiana. He exhibited his artistic talent at an early age when at nine years old, he painted the interior of the family barn with large and impressive images. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago in 1899 and remained in that city until 1910, at which time he traveled to Paris and Munich to further his art studies.

Judging by the canvases from his European period, Higgins was by that time already a virtuoso painter, although his palette was somewhat limited. His brushwork was bold and descriptive, broad and lyrical. Higgins returned from Europe in 1914 a complete painter, with only one urgent need - to learn about color.Soon after his return, Carter Harrison, former mayor of Chicago and avid art collector, sponsored Higgins on a trip to New Mexico. Harrison commissioned the artist to paint the northern New Mexico landscape, which he found so moving on his numerous visits. Higgins, captivated by his new surroundings, remained in Taos after completing his commission and was elected into the Taos Society of Artists in 1915.

In his early Taos paintings, Higgins demonstrated a flair for the romantic while "cataloging" the world around him. His early style, a broadly brushed variant on impressionism, was turned to the landscape as well as Indian subjects. It was a period of familiarization with New Mexico, particularly with the people of the Taos Pueblo and their environment. Eventually, a number of years later, the "standard recipe" of depicting the pleasant pageantry of Taos Indian life gradually gave way to a new feeling for reflective imagery.

In the 1920s Higgins turned more and more to the landscape. The human figure gradually assumed a secondary role during this period and for the remainder of Higgins' career. He became fascinated in the dramatic shapes, the jagged motifs, and colors of the mountain ranges surrounding Taos. Ever present was Higgins' concern to capture the rapidly changing moods of the New Mexican sky, and the qualities of color as they filtered through clouds of varying consistencies. With his new dedication to the landscape, Higgins continued to strive for a simplification of form. The other significant change in Higgins' style during this period is the added luminosity that his palette acquired. His paintings of this period are characterized by a light palette and brushwork. The ochres, grays and browns of his early Taos canvases find new companions in a wide range of blues, greens and whites.

In the latter part of the decade Higgins began a number of experiments in the use of multi-point perspective and interlocking planes applied to a series of still life and figure studies. These indicate a knowledge of Cézanne, probably absorbed through Dasburg and Marin, both of whom he met in Taos. He was attempting to transcend mere representation to arrive at a substance beneath the surface. These changes in the artist's work bore full fruit in the Forties, by which time he had broken completely with the academic heritage of his early work. Nature remained his stimulus as he gradually invested his pictures with personally evocative elements that indicated a unique spirit.It was during the 1930s that Victor Higgins finally asserted his pure personality and was at last at ease with himself. His newfound spirit is evident not only in his oils, but in his many splendid watercolors as well.

Higgins' watercolors of the 1930s show a strong cubist influence. They are involved with a layered structure between the fore, middle and backgrounds, and are some of the finest examples of objects being rendered in their simplest forms.

Higgins spent his final years creating a series of oils appropriately titled "Little Gems." The paintings were begun in the mid-1940s and completed just before his death in 1949. Many of them are vignettes of the Rio Grande executed on the spot. The artist set up his studio in the field, painting from the trunk of his automobile. Of these final works Blumenschein remarked. "This last group of pictures I shall never forget. In them was the best Higgins quality, a lyrical charm added to his lovely color… He always had, as do most good artists, an instinct that guided his form structure… And he put all he had into this dozen of small canvases… All works of love: love of his simple subjects and of his craftsmanship."Normal

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, III
Victor Higgins and Walter Ufer first came to Taos under similar circumstances, but their art developed along very different lines. Higgins was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, and at the age of fifteen he moved to Chicago to study and work at the Art Institute. In 1908, he traveled to New York where he met Robert Henri, who was then achieving notoriety for his works depicting everyday urban scenes. Two years later, Higgins went on to study the more traditional rudiments of painting in Paris and Munich, where he met Ufer.

Although Higgins received a thorough academic training, his exposure to Henri left the artist dissatisfied with a purely traditional approach to art. His feelings were intensified when he returned to America and saw an important exhibition of modernist art in 1912. Then the artist received the same opportunity to travel to New Mexico as had Walter Ufer. In meantime he had decided that the only way an artist could develop lasting art was to fully absorb the spirit and sense of place of a particular locality. Higgins was enthralled by Taos, telling one writer that the area had captured him "because of the light. There is the best light to be found anywhere. There is more color in the landscape and the people than elsewhere. And besides this there is the constant call here to create something."

Higgins had learned from his teacher Henri how important it was for the artist to identify closely with his subject, and to translate the spirit of that subject into form and color. The scenes of Taos life which he painted were created through attention to mass, line, and tone; initially one could identify specific subjects in his works, but gradually Higgins began to emphasize a great emotion effect arrived at through the medium of the paint itself, though his subjects did not become any less realistic.

As his friend Ernest Blumenschein observed, Higgins possessed "a painter's style." Before long, Higgins began to paint pure landscape and still life in an effort to move away from the more anecdotal or picturesque works of his fellow Taos artists. "The trouble with most people is that they see too much with the eye only and not enough with the inner eye, the emotions," he told an interviewer in 1932. "A painter paints a canvas not because he wants to make a 'picture' as that he wants to solve a problem. A problem in form, in construction, design if you prefer that term, in color harmonies." Of all artists of the Taos colony, Victor Higgins painted his environment with the eyes of a modernist.

ReSources include: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, Dr. Rick Stewart, Hawthorne Publishing Company, 1986

Biography from Robert L. Parsons Fine Art
Victor Higgins (1884 - 1949)

Victor Higgins, the most modern painter of the Taos Society of Artists, came to Taos from Chicago in 1914. Having been born and raised on a small Indiana farm, Higgins found his artistic calling at nine years old when a traveling artist who painted ads on the side of barns introduced the young boy to painting and taught him about museums. This introduction inspired Higgins to save his allowance, and at the age of fifteen he was granted his family's permission to attend the Chicago Art Institute. While in Chicago, the former city mayor and avid art collector Carter Harrison befriended the budding painter, and generously agreed to support Higgins while he took his studies to Europe. In Paris, Victor met Walter Ufer (another recipient of Carter Harrison's artistic sponsorship), and the two became fast friends.

After returning to Chicago in 1914, Harrison sent the pair to Taos, NM, for a year in exchange for new works. For Higgins, the move became permanent in 1915, and he would join the fledgling Taos Society of Artists in 1917. While participating in Taos Society group exhibitions, Higgins began to impart a modernist flavor into his paintings, and is credited with bringing modernism to realism. His talent for experimental landscapes garnered him many awards during this time, including The First Logan Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago, and the First Altman Prize at the National Academy of Design in New York.

His primary relationship seemed to be with his painting, although Higgins was briefly married to Sheldon Parsons' daughter, Sara, and then later to Marion Kooglen McNay of San Antonio, Texas.

It was late in Higgins' life that he produced what many consider to be his best paintings, a series of oils aptly referred to as "Little Gems." Working out of the trunk of his car in his signature three piece suit, Higgins painted small landscapes that his good friend and fellow artist Ernest Blumenschein described as "All works of love: love of his simple subjects and of his craftsmanship."

In 1949, while dining at the home of friends and fellow Taos artists, Thomas and Dorothy Benrimo, Victor Higgins succumbed to a fatal heart attack. He was the last survivor of the first seven Taos Society members, and his passing marked for many the end of a Taos era.

Biography from Nedra Matteucci Galleries
VICTOR HIGGINS (1884-1949)

Victor Higgins was born into a farming family in Shelbyville, Indiana. By the age of nine he was determined to become an artist, [following a brief lesson and much inspiration from an itinerant painter]. At fifteen he left for Chicago to study at the Art Institute and the Chicago Academy of Fine Art. In 1910 he travelled to Europe, first training at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and later in Munich under Haas von Hyeck, where he met fellow artist Walter Ufer.

Higgins returned to Chicago to teach at the Academy and in 1914 accepted a commission to paint the landscape at Taos, which was then gaining recognition as a notable, if remote, artist colony. He and his traveling companion, Walter Ufer, were so entranced by the town and its people that they chose to stay. Both artists were invited to join the exclusive Taos Society of Artists in 1915 and were elected to full membership two years later. An affable man, Higgins was both respected by his artist peers and considered the delight of the newly-arriving international society set clustered around Mabel Dodge Luhan.

Higgins, unlike the other artists at Taos, never worked as an illustrator. He was considered a painter's painter and developed a highly innovative, lustrously rich, modern style. The only artist of the group proficient in watercolor as well as in oil, Higgins captured the abstracted beauty of New Mexico, rendering a pure landscape absent of sentimentality or romanticism.

Higgins was one of only nineteen artists invited to show at the Museum of Modern Art's second exhibition in 1929. He was elected an Academician of the National Academy of Design in 1935. His paintings are represented in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Butler Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and other museums across the United States. The artist's last years were devoted to creating small landscapes on location which are considered the full realization of a true master's vision.

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Santa Monica
Victor Higgins was born in Indiana in 1884, and studied briefly in Chicago at the Art Institute. Higgins spent the years 1908-1912 studying in Munich, and returned to the states to work in Chicago, where he earned great acclaim for his exhibitions.

He was greatly affected by the New York Armory Show in 1913, where he was first exposed to the American Modernism of Marsden Hartley. Following a move to Taos in 1915, Higgins concentrated on near-Cubist paintings of the landscape and Pueblo Indians of the area. Much more influenced by Modernism than his colleagues in Taos, Higgins enjoyed commercial success with a loyal following in Chicago.

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About  Victor Higgins

Born:  1884 - Shelbyville, Indiana
Died:   1949 - Taos, New Mexico
Known for:  Indian genre, landscape and portrait painting

Essays referring to
Victor Higgins

Taos pre-1940
Western Artists