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 Maynard Dixon  (1875 - 1946)

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Lived/Active: California/Arizona      Known for: western landscape painting-skyscapes, Indians

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Fresno, California in the San Joaquin Valley, Maynard Dixon, originally named Henry St. John Dixon, became a noted illustrator, landscape, and mural painter of the early 20th-century American West, especially the desert, Indians, early settlers, and cowboys.

Several phases of Dixon's career show him to be an early modernist painter who incorporated Post-Impressionism and Cubist-Realism into his landscapes and skyscapes.  Examples of strong modernist influences in his paintings are "Cloud World" of 1925 and "Study in Cubist Realism", 1925.  His career can be divided into several periods: 1890-1905, Self taught; 1905-1915, Illustrator; 1915-1921, Post Impressionist; 1921-1930, Cubist Realist; and 1930-1946 Simple Modern Confidence!

According to Paul Bingham, Director of the Thunderbird Foundation former home of the artist that now houses the primarly collection of Dixon's paintings, "these two last periods between 1921 and 1946 make the strongest modern statement."

Maynard Dixon lived most of his life in the West, living at times in Mount Carmel, Utah; Tucson, Arizona; and the desert of California near Mecca and Indio.  His close friends were artists Jimmy Swinnerton, John Hilton, and Clyde Forsythe.  He settled in California and adopted the sun-drenched pallete of the California school.  His last years he suffered horribly from asthma.

He was from a family of Virginia emigrants whose lineage was tied to English aristocracy.  Living part of his youth in Colorado, Dixon made drawings of western life from the time he was seven years old.  A sickly youngster whose activity had to be restricted, Dixon was inspired by illustrators, especially Remington, with whom he got in touch and who gave him positive critiques of his work.

In 1893, he moved with his family to Alameda, and that same year, his first illustration was published and was in Overland Monthly.

He briefly attended the Mark Hopkins Art Institute where he learned art fundamentals, but discontent with academics, he left after three months, deciding to travel and paint from nature.  He took his first full-time job in 1895, becoming an illustrator for the San Francisco Morning Call and four years later he joined the San Francisco Examiner.  He also wandered and sketched all over the West and Northwest---Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah and exhibited regularly with the San Francisco Art Association.

In 1905, Dixon married artist Lillian West Tobey, and the next year his studio with most of his early work was destroyed by the San Francisco earthquake and fire.  He and his wife moved to Sausalito.

One of the first critics to laud him was Charles Lummis, first city editor of the Los Angeles Times, and well known writer who crusaded for western settlement.  At the encouragement of Lummis, Dixon had first visited Arizona in 1900 and 1902, and seeing that state, Dixon proclaimed "he had found his country."

He visited Hubbell's Trading Post and painted the Navajo Indians at Canyon de Chelly on a commission from Hubbell.  He returned to Arizona again and again including in 1907 to Tucson where he did a series of western murals for the newly-built Southern Pacific Railroad Depot.

From 1907 to 1912, Dixon studied and illustrated with Century, Scribner's, and Mc Clure's magazines in New York and earned honors including membership in the Salmagundi Club and National Academy of Design.

During this time of living in the East, he received in 1909 an invitation to travel northwest from an admirer of his work, Charles Moody, and from this experience spent time in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, and in Cutbank, Montana.  There he worked as a cowboy for the C Cattle Company, punching cows and living with wranglers and studying Indians and western life generally.  He sketched about one-hundred fifty cowboys and landscape of the one-hundred square miles that they roamed.

In 1912, he returned to California, and gave up commercial art for mural and easel painting.  In 1915, during the Panama Pacific Exposition, he had a nervous breakdown, and two years later divorced his wife.  In 1920, he married Dorothea Lange, a photographer, and this marriage lasted until 1935.

In 1937, he married Edith Hamlin, an artist, and they purchased property in 1939 at Mount Carmel, Utah and built their home and studio there.  It was their intention to invite artists from around the country to come to create fine art and enjoy the ambience and spirit of the area.  That is now the mission of the Thunderbird Foundation for the Arts, located on the same property.  However, Dixon was unable to spend much time at Mount Carmel because he needed a drier climate for his health, so he and his wife lived primarily in Tucson, Arizona, where he died on November 14, 1946.

Dixon's style was painting bold masses of color with simplicity of line, a technique that led him into mural painting in which he excelled much of his professional life.  In Los Angeles, he also did murals for the new Southwest Museum founded by Charles Lummis, and in 1946, he did sketches for a large mural of the Grand Canyon for the Santa Fe Railway's Los Angeles office.  But he died before he completed the work, and his widow, Edith Hamlin and his friend Buck Weaver finished it.

Source:
Donald Hagerty, Desert Dreams: The Art and Life of Maynard Dixon
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
James Ballinger, Visitors to Arizona, 1846 to 1980
Paul Bingham, Director, Thunderbird Foundation

This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Born in Fresno, CA on Jan. 24, 1875. A sickly child, sketching occupied a lot of Dixon's time while growing up. As a boy he listened with fascination to the stories of the Old West told by the old timers. It is no wonder that cowboys and Indians were to become the main subject matter of his life's work. At 16 he sent his sketch book to Frederic Remington who encouraged him to pursue an art career. The Dixon family moved to Alameda, CA in 1893, the year the artist's first illustration was published in Overland Monthly. Dixon enrolled at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute, but the confines of a classroom were not to his liking and he remained only three months.

In 1895 he took his first full-time job as an illustrator for the San Francisco Morning Call and continued four years later with the Examiner. By 1899 he was making regular sketching trips into the Northwest and Southwest, during which time he was exhibiting regularly with the San Francisco Art Ass'n. In 1905 he married artist Lillian West Tobey. A year later the earthquake and fire destroyed his studio and most of his early works. The Dixons then lived across the Golden Gate in Sausalito until 1907 when he accepted a commission from the Southern Pacific Railroad to paint a mural for their depot in Tucson, AZ. Afterwards he moved to New York where he continued his magazine illustrations. Upon returning to California in 1912, he abandoned commercial art to concentrate on easel paintings and murals. During the PPIE of 1915 he suffered a nervous breakdown and divorced his wife in 1917. He married photographer Dorothea Lange in 1920. This marriage lasted until 1935 and in 1937 he married artist Edith Hamlin. During the 1930s he did murals and paintings for the WPA. In 1938 ill health forced his move to the drier climate of Tucson, AZ where he spent his last years while maintaining a studio nearby in Mt Carmel, UT. Dixon died in Tucson on Nov. 14, 1946.  Today he is internationally famous for his western subjects which he often signed with his logo, an Indian Thunderbird.

Member: SFAA; Salmagundi Club; Architectural League of NY; Bohemian Club; Press Club (SF); Bay Region AA; Oakland AA; Foundation of Western Art (LA); Berkeley Art League; AFA; SW Society; American Artists Congress.

Exhibitions (group): SF Artists Society, 1905; NAD, 1911; PPIE, 1915 (bronze medal); Bohemian Club, 1915, 1922; Painters of the West (LA), 1924-25.

Exhibitions (solo): Vickery, Atkins, & Torrey Gallery (SF), 1914; Oakland Art Gallery, 1919; Gump's (SF), 1920; Stendahl Gallery (LA), 1921; Macbeth Gallery (NYC), 1923; Galerie Beaux Arts (SF), 1925-32; Mills College (Oakland), 1927; Pasadena Art Museum, 1928; Biltmore Salon (LA), 1928; Haggin Museum (Stockton), 1934; De Young Museum, 1956, 1968; CHS, 1975; Fresno Arts Center, 1975; Calif. Academy of Sciences (SF), 1981.

Murals: Canoga Park (CA) Post Office; Martinez (CA) Post Office; John C. Fremont High School (LA); Main reading room of Sacramento State Library; West Coast Theatre (Oakland); Mark Hopkins Hotel's Hall of the Dons (done with Frank Van Sloun); Oakland Technical High School; Biltmore Hotel (Phoenix); Dept. of Interior Bldg. (Washington, DC). In: Orange Co. (CA) Museum; Brooklyn Museum; Univ. of Idaho; De Young Museum; Brigham Young Univ.; Mills College (Oakland); Cook Museum (Honolulu); Southwest Museum (LA); Pasadena Art Inst.; Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley); CHS.

Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Interview with the artist or his/her family; Who's Who in California 1928; American Art Annual 1933; Who's Who in American Art 1936-41; Artists and Illustrators of the Old West (Robert Taft); Who's Who in America 1938; So. Calif. Artists 1890-1940; California Art Research, 20 volumes; Southern California Artists (Nancy Moure); Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers (Fielding, Mantle); Art in California (R. L. Bernier, 1916); History & Ideals of American Art (Neuhaus); Painters & Sculptors in California: the Modern Era; Dictionary of American Art (Baigell); NY Times, 11-15-1946 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery Santa FeTucson:
Maynard Dixon’s mentor, Charles Lummis, encouraged Dixon early in his painting career to leave California, and “travel East to see the real West”. Dixon did just that, traveling the many roads that crisscrossed the West: Montana, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. Lasting weeks, to even months, these trips provided Dixon with the inspiration to create. He was forever drawn to the vistas and peoples inhabiting these remote western lands.

Arizona: When Dixon first visited Arizona, at the turn of the 20th century, it was wild, open territory, inhabited primarily by Hispanics and Native Americans. In 1902, he made his first visit to Lorenzo Hubbell’s Ganado trading post, and came away with wonderful sketches he would use as inspiration for many years to come. Viewing these works, one can imagine the awe Dixon felt in the raw beauty of the landscape and its inhabitants. He would return to Arizona many times, ultimately making Tucson his final home.

The Arizona paintings represent the entire gamut of painting styles Dixon utilized during his productive career. Heavy impasto and bold colors are typical of his work in the teens. Many of these canvases depict real places and people that Dixon experienced between 1914, and 1916. By the twenties, Dixon expanded his technique, experimenting with both post-Impressionism, and Cubism. Surrounded by the landscape and people of Southern Arizona in the final years of his life, Dixon created works with a sparing use of paint and subdued color scheme. Paintings utilizing Dixon’s powerful command of light and shadow are often considered quintessential Dixon works.

California: Although Dixon called California home for most of his life, this state was inspiration for only a fraction of the work he produced. Many California paintings were done around his boyhood home of Refuge in the San Joaquin Valley; although many of these works look as if they could have been painted anywhere in the Southwest. Like the majority of Dixon’s work, the California paintings primarily depict remote, desert landscapes.

Montana: Dixon only visited Montana twice, in 1909 and 1917. The lush, heavily-tree-laden vistas did not appeal to him as much as the barren Southwestern deserts, but Dixon’s love and respect for the Native Americans he met and lived with for a time were the inspiration for the majority of this region’s paintings. Although primarily small in size, the canvases give fantastic insight into the life of the northern Plains Indians. Due to the scarcity and universally appealing subject matter, the Montana works are some of the most sought after by collectors and historians alike.

New Mexico: The time Dixon spent in New Mexico from September 1931 through January 1932 was a happy, contented time for Dixon. Living with wife Dorothea Lange, and children John and Dan, in a house provided by his dear friend Mabel Dodge Luhan, Dixon completed some of his most productive, and inspired paintings. During the five-month stay, Dixon was very prolific, painting more than forty canvases of all sizes. Many of these paintings told a story about the interaction between the land and its people. At that time, Northern New Mexico was the heart of a thriving art community.

The Taos Society, a group of well-trained and respected artists invited Dixon to join their exclusive alliance. True to form, Dixon declined the offer, finding their bylaws on which paintings could be exhibited too confining and rigid. Dixon, the self-taught, highly individualistic painter, had great inner strength and distinctiveness. The New Mexico period represents some of Dixon ‘s finest works, ones in which his special qualities are clearly imparted.

Nevada: Nevada could have easily claimed Dixon as one of it’s own. If not for the cool weather and high altitude of Carson City, Dixon might well have spent his last years there instead of Tucson. Many of his strongest canvases resulted from the places he visited in Nevada during the 1920’s and 30’s. One of his favorite and frequent subjects were the trees that prominently dotted this Southwestern terrain. In addition, some of Dixon’s finest desert landscapes stem from his time in Nevada.

Utah: Utah was a favorite place of Dixon’s; he loved the light and found the Mormon people gracious and kind. In a Christmas card to his good friend Joe, Dixon wrote, "Many times I wanted to write you, but struggle for health takes a lot out of me. Big news is we are going to quit Calif. & build us a log house in Utah, far from any large town. Mormons are simple honest farming people. We like them. Beautiful country, but cold in winter. Don’t know if we can make a living there, but take a gamblers chance.”

Given his love for Utah, it seems fitting that Provo’s Brigham Young University has the largest museum collection of Maynard Dixon lifework paintings. Most of the Utah paintings are from 1933 through 1945. Mount Carmel was Dixon’s summer retreat from the Arizona desert heat. Zion National Park was also a favorite area. The Utah paintings show the stark dichotomy of the state’s terrain. While there are many landscapes of harsh, unforgiving land, Dixon also captured serene, mountain meadows.

People: The people Dixon depicted in his paintings reflect the cultural mix of the American West of the early 20th century. Dixon was delighted to live among all the peoples of the region, and his portrayals of the Hispanic, Native American, and Anglo inhabitants are without comparison. Dixon also used the human form to allude to more ethereal subjects. Some of his most poignant and gripping works were the handful of Great Depression-era paintings done in 1934 and 1935. Dixon’s wife, famed photographer Dorothea Lange, was devoted to chronicling the plight of the migrant workers and the San Francisco maritime worker’s strike. Her involvement undoubtedly influenced Dixon’s choice of this atypical subject matter. The images of expressionless men done in somber grays and blues show skillful use of light and shadow to accentuate the distress in the subjects he portrayed.

The Depression-era paintings are the least common in Dixon’s body of work. The majority of these treasures are located in the Museum of Art collection at Brigham Young University. Dixon also portrayed people and their intimate interactions with the land around them.

Dixon respected the Hopi and their culture, and spent many months living with them. Portraying the important association between man and animal, Dixon captured another essential facet of early 20th-century Western life. Indeed, the horse was a subject found throughout his career, from his earliest drawings and illustrations, to later works. The remote western landscapes and their early 20th-century inhabitants inspired Dixon. One only has to gaze upon these majestic paintings to understand Maynard Dixon’s vision of the west. Dr. J. Mark Sublette

Biography from Nedra Matteucci Galleries:
MAYNARD DIXON (1875-1946)

Surrounded by the vast flatlands of his birthplace in Fresno, California, Maynard Dixon began sketching at the age of ten. Frail health restricted his childhood amusements to sketching trips with his pony, listening to the local old-timers' tales of the early West, and reading. By the time he was sixteen he had sufficient confidence in his work to send his sketch book to Frederic Remington, his illustrator hero. At eighteen, spurred on by the encouragement and advice of Remington, he enrolled in the San Francisco School of Design. Before he was twenty he was working as a newspaper and magazine illustrator in San Francisco.

One of his strongest convictions as an artist was that, if one felt doubtful of his work, he should return to nature and renew his vision. This was advice which he followed diligently all his life. When he was not working on a commission, he spent his time on painting and sketching trips, which eventually encompassed every state in the West. From these extensive field trips and the insights they produced, a mastery of his material and a highly distinctive style evolved. Maynard Dixon's many works attest to the deep understanding he had of his subjects, especially of the desert and its inhabitants, the Indians, early settlers, and cowboys.

Dixon's style with its strong, dramatic forms and clear, vivid colors was perfectly suited to murals, and he painted many of them. Two of his outstanding works in the medium were painted in 1939 for the Department of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. In 1946 he prepared sketches for a large mural of the Grand Canyon for the Santa Fe Railroad in Los Angeles. Already extremely ill, he nevertheless managed to supervise the execution of this last work at his Tucson studio. Within a month after its completion, he died.

Dixon was a member of the Salmagundi Club, New York City; the Architectural League of New York; the Bohemian Club; the Press Club of San Francisco, CA; the Oakland Art Association, CA; the Foundation of Western Art, Los Angeles, CA; Painters of the West, Los Angeles, CA; the American Federation of Arts; and the Southwest Society. Dixon's works are held in many private and public collections including the Brooklyn Museum, New York City; the Oakland Museum and the Pasadena Art Institute, CA; the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, TX; the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City; and the National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.

Excerpted from:
Dorothy Harmsen, Harmsen's Western America (Denver: Harmsen Publishing Company, 1978).

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery:
MAYNARD DIXON (1875-1946)

Literature:
® Illustrated in full color on the cover of Touring Topics magazine, April 1930 issue, published by the Automobile Club of Southern California.


Maynard Dixon was born in California, a descendent of Virginian aristocracy who had moved to the flats of the San Joaquin Valley. Rather frail as a child, he taught himself to draw and spent most of his days making artwork. At the age of sixteen he sent some of his sketches to Frederic Remington who returned them with praise and encouragement to continue his work. It was suggested that he apply to the School of Design in San Francisco: he was readily accepted. He began his studies there in 1891 but found the approach to be too formal and withdrew.

After leaving school he began working as a cowpuncher, wandering throughout Arizona, New Mexico, and southeast California until he settled back in San Francisco four years later. At the age of twenty he got his first job as an artist working as a newspaper illustrator and sketching on the spot for both crime and feature stories. As his draftmanship and sense of design improved, he did illustrations for magazines and books.

His drawings became quite famous and were published in the Los Angeles magazine Land of Sunshine in 1898. In 1901, Dixon and his good friend Edward Borein took a trip on horseback and headed Northwest. They were gone for several months and sketched along the way. Upon their return Dixon showed his sketches to a representative for Harper's magazine who was sufficiently impressed to purchase them all outright.

After the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 destroyed Maynard Dixon's studio and all of his accumulated work, he moved to New York City where he worked for several years as an illustrator. When he again returned to San Francisco, his studio became a central point for the Western art world. More of his time was devoted to easel painting, and by 1920 he was able to reduce illustration work.

He was considered the leading desert painter and was easily the most successful Westerner painting the Southwest. As a colorist he was said to have been influenced by Maxfield Parrish in the blue of the lava ridges, but it is probably more accurate to say that Dixon simplified the earth and sky colors he saw as his style grew increasingly modern. In the 1930's Dixon devoted the majority of his time to painting murals and was working on a large one of the Grand Canyon when he died at the age of seventy-one.


Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, I:
Maynard Lafayette Dixon
Born: Fresno, California 1875
Died: Tucson, Arizona 1946

Important traditional painter interpreting Western life, muralist, illustrator

Maynard Dixon was descended from Virginia aristocracy who had moved to the sandy flats of the San Joaquin Valley. Frail as a youth, he taught himself to draw. At 16, he sent sketches to Remington, receiving encouraging comment. He was led to attend the School of Design in San Francisco in 1891, but found the approach too formal. He became a cowpuncher, wandering over Arizona, New Mexico and southeast California. His first job in art was in 1895 as a newspaper illustrator in San Francisco, sketching on the spot for crime and feature stories. He also became a key figure in the bohemian life. As his draftsmanship and sense of design improved, he did illustrations for magazines and books. When he was 23, his drawings were published in the Los Angeles magazine Land of Sunshine. He made his first trip to NM in 1900. In 1901, he and Borein headed Northwest on horseback. His sketches were sold to Harper’s.

After the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 destroyed Dixon’s accumulated work, he moved to New York City as an illustrator. In 1909, he was again in the Northwest, sketching Indians in Idaho and Nevada. When he returned to San Francisco, his studio was a central point for the Western art world. More of his time was devoted to easel painting, and by 1920 he was able to minimize illustration work. He was considered the leading desert painter, the most successful of the Westerners painting the Southwest. As a colorist he was said to have been influenced by Maxfield Parrish in the blue of the lava ridge, but it is probably truer to say that Dixon painted the earth and sky colors the saw simplified as his style grew increasingly modern. In the 1930s Dixon devoted his time to murals. He died of asthma after completing a mural of the Grand Canyon.

Resource: SAMUELS’ Encyclopedia of ARTISTS of THE AMERICAN WEST,
Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing

Biography from The Coeur d'Alene Art Auction:
Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) was born in Fresno, California, and began sketching at the age of ten. By the time he was sixteen, he had sufficient confidence in his work to send his sketch book to Frederic Remington, his illustrator hero, who replied with two encouraging letters. At eighteen, spurred on by the encouragement and advice of Remington, he enrolled in the San Francisco School of Design. Before he was twenty, he was working as a newspaper and magazine illustrator in San Francisco.

When he was not working on a commission in his San Francisco studio and later at his Tucson, Arizona studio, his time was spent on painting and sketching trips. These trips eventually encompassed every state in the West. From these field trips and the insights they produced, he evolved a mastery of his material and a highly distinctive style.Dixon's style, with its strong, dramatic forms and clear, vivid colors, was perfectly suited to murals and he painted many of them. Two of his outstanding works in this medium were painted in 1939 for the Department of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.

In 1946 he prepared sketches for a large mural of the Grand Canyon for the city ticket office of the Santa Fe Railroad in Los Angeles. Already extremely ill, he nevertheless managed to supervise the execution of this last work at his Tucson studio. Within a month after its completion, he died.

Maynard Dixon's many works: sketches, drawings, paintings, illustrations and murals, attest to the deep understanding he had of his subjects--primarily the desert and its inhabitants, the Indians, early settlers and cowboys.

Biography from The Caldwell Gallery - I:
Maynard Dixon, born in 1875, was a largely self-taught artist. He spent three months studying at Mark Hopkins Institute. Dixon decided to send his sketchbook to an artist he highly admired, Frederic Remington, who encouraged Dixon to pursue his artistic talent. Dixon's first illustration was published in 1893 in "Overland Monthly". He began to work full time in 1895 for the "San Francisco Morning Call" and later the "San Francisco Examiner". Unfortunately, a fire in 1906 destroyed Dixon's body of work.

Dixon gained international fame for his western subjects with the sky colors that became his distinctive trademark. An Indian thunderbird was used often as a logo in his work. By the 1920s, Dixon's work turned more to architectural structures and bold masses painted with a dynamic palette. He began to develop a Cubist-Realist style with angular forms and abstract color. However, Dixon painted a series of scenes concentrated on the tragic victims of the Depression during the 1930s that were quite different than his usual style.

Dixon died soon after completing a mural of the Grand Canyon in 1946.


Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Carmel:
Maynard Dixon was born on a ranch near Fresno, California, in 1875.  A sickly child, Dixon spent much of his time sketching scenes near the family home.   In 1893 the Dixon family moved to the San Francisco area, where Dixon tried studying at the Mark Hopkins Institute.

Finding formal study unpalatable Dixon quickly left the school for work as an illustrator, a job at which he earned great acclaim.  Throughout his adult life Dixon made regular painting excursions in the Southwest, and his studio was decorated with Native American crafts.

Dixon is best remembered for his works from these trips, as well as his strong linear WPA era paintings, including the very famous Scab.  In 1938, Dixon’s health forced his move to the drier climate of Tucson, where he died in 1946.

Biography from Edenhurst Gallery (Artists A to L):
Maynard Dixon was born in Fresno, California in 1875. He was fascinated with the Old West and at an early age sent a sketchbook to Frederic Remington who encouraged him to pursue a career in art. Rallied by this suggestion, Dixon began to advance his ambitions and went on to become one of California's most beloved western painters. His style evolved over his career from illustrative to narrative to descriptive, always honestly portraying the western landscape that was such a source of beloved inspiration to his life's work. In the 1930's he delved into social realism, even here, so outside of his to then normal subject matter, succeeding to capture with beauty and sensitivity the turmoil in the America of the depression era.

Biography from Maynard Dixon Living History Museum:
The following is from By Paul Bingham, Chairman, Thunderbird Foundation for the Arts, Mt. Carmel, Utah

Maynard Dixon 1875-1946
 
There has been a resurgence of interest this year in Maynard Dixon’s life and works. A retrospective exhibition of his art as well as educational tours of “Maynard Dixon Country” have introduced a wider public to this essential Western artist. Why does Maynard Dixon’s fame continue to spread over half a century after his death? 

Almost everyone recognizes his superb artistic skill and honest vision. Some credit his deep understanding of the West. But maybe more than anything else, it is his uniquely modern style, one that gave the West a new language of expression that makes Maynard Dixon’s work so exciting.

Dixon was born to a ranching family in 1875 in Fresno, California. Much has been spoken and written about his early years – his sending of early drawings to Frederic Remington (with encouragement received in reply) and his introduction to academic training under Arthur Mathews at the California School of Design in San Francisco.  Suffice to say he had tremendous natural artistic talent and decided at an early age to become an illustrator of the Old West.

Great illustrators were plentiful around the turn of the century yet Dixon obtained work from the Overland Monthly and several San Francisco newspapers.  In 1900 Dixon visited Arizona and New Mexico. This was the start of his lifelong passion for roaming the West.  The next year he accompanied artist Edward Borein on a horseback trip through several Western states. In California, he illustrated books and magazines with Western themes. Some of his most memorable work from these early years appeared in Clarence Mulford’s books about Hopalong Cassidy.

Dixon developed his own unique style during this early period, and Western themes became a trademark for him.  He spent a good deal of time with Xavier Martinez, whom he had met at the California School of Design. Martinez, a Tonalist painter of the first order, had known the famous American painter James McNeill Whistler while in Paris.  That acquaintance gave Dixon his first step toward modernism.

In San Francisco, Dixon was considered a colorful character with a good sense of humor.  He often dressed like a cowboy and seemed determined to impart a Western style, most often in the form of a black Stetson, boots and a bolo tie.

A remarkable transition occurred in Dixon’s art in 1915. That was the year of the Panama Pacific International Exposition, and the entire West Coast art community was exposed to the New Art.  Room after room of colorful artwork provided juicy examples of Fauvism, Impressionism, and the move toward abstraction by French artists as well as East Coast painters, too.  With this exposure to Impressionism, California painters began shifting to the new styles of art.  Dixon’s pursuant post-Impressionist approach revealed his search for his own answer to modernism.

In 1919, Dixon met a portrait photographer, Dorothea Lange, who came from the East seeking a new life in San Francisco.  She had a new vision, and the simple compositions she made in black-and-white were modernist and abstract.  The two married in 1920.

Dixon continued his travels and accompanied Lange to Nevada and later to Arizona.  His paintings had changed dramatically in the period following his marriage.  To convey his message he no longer relied on paint but on powerful and simple compositions.  In 1921, at the age of 46, Dixon created some 60 paintings while discovering the power of the low horizon and marching cloud formations.

From 1922 through 1927, Dixon painted 100 works.  His shapes became stylized and defined, and he was extremely confident in his emerging modern style.  He had begun to deliver strong messages with the utmost simplification.  Together with his wife and two young sons, Dixon scoured the West in search of inspiration, visiting northern New Mexico around Taos and present-day Zion National Park in Utah.

During the Great Depression, Dixon took a slight turn at the crossroads with a series of social realism canvasses depicting the prevailing politics and the violence of maritime strikes along the waterfront.  Simultaneously Lange captured on film memorable images of migrant workers and other aspects of the Depression.  In 1933 Dixon and family spent the summer in Zion National Park and Mt. Carmel, Utah.

Dixon and Lange divorced in 1935.  Two years later he married prominent San Francisco muralist Edith Hamlin.  The couple left San Francisco two years later for Southern Utah, the source of some of Dixon’s greatest art.  He had returned to inspiration of the land where the spirit moved him and gave him the peace he sought.

In 1939, the couple built a summerhouse in Mount Carmel, Utah, where Dixon found new friends and became reacquainted with the earth.  He lived near the cottonwood trees along an old irrigation ditch and took short hikes to a plateau where he loved the quiet.  Dixon spent winter months in Tucson, where the couple also had a home and studio.

Dixon continued to create masterpieces – simple but powerful compositions in which non-essential elements were distilled or eliminated.  In 1946, this master of American modernism passed away in Tucson, and his ashes were then taken to Mt. Carmel and buried on the hillside.

Maynard Dixon’s art had evolved through the tumultuous years of modernism’s onset, and he had incorporated its aesthetic while continuing to focus on Western subjects.  His superlative skills as an illustrator were brought into the mix, and he emerged with his own incomparable images in his own style.  These images of people and places reflect those Dixon saw in his travels and his sojourns in and around the West, characterized by the qualities of clarity, honesty, and of course, beauty. 
 
Is it any wonder Maynard Dixon’s works continue to gain new admirers and inspire us as no other? Wherever the wide-open spaces of the West, its canyons, mesas, cottonwoods, clouds, sagebrush, and people, strike a chord in the heart, Maynard Dixon’s art will be honored.

Also, we are very happy to report that the Maynard Dixon home and studio in Mt. Carmel Utah has officially been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This means that a marker will be erected this year along Historic Highway 89 marking the place where Dixon spent the last years of his life and the area where Edith Hamlin spread his ashes after his death and placed a marker on the hillside.

Biography from Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site:
Maynard Dixon was an American painter, muralist and illustrator who was born on January 24, 1875 on a ranch near Fresno, California.  Surrounded by the vast flatlands, Dixon began sketching at the age of ten.  Frail health restricted his childhood amusements to sketching trips with his pony, reading and listening to the local old-timers' tales of the early West.
 
By the time he was sixteen, he had sufficient confidence in his work to send his sketchbook to Frederic Remington, his illustrator hero, who replied with two encouraging letters.  At eighteen, spurred on by the encouragement and advice of Remington, he enrolled in the San Francisco School of Design.  Before he was twenty he was working as a newspaper and magazine illustrator in San Francisco.
 
One of his strongest convictions as an artist was:  "If doubtful of your work, return to nature and renew your vision."  It was advice which he, himself, followed diligently all of his life.  When he was not working on a commission in his San Francisco studio, and later at his Tucson, Arizona studio, his time was spent on painting and sketching trips that eventually encompassed every state in the West. From these extensive field trips and the insights they produced, he evolved a mastery of his material and a highly distinctive style—the architectural structuring of bold masses combined with dynamic composition and vibrant coloring.
 
During the 1930's, deeply moved by the dislocated and tragic victims of the Depression, he did a series of powerful paintings, which were a departure from his usual subject matter.  Some of the most memorable paintings from this time were "Scab", "Destination Unknown", and "Keep Moving".
 
Dixon's style, with its strong, dramatic forms and clear, vivid colors, was perfectly suited to murals, and he painted many of them.  Two of his outstanding works in this medium were painted in 1939 for the Department of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.  In 1946 he prepared sketches in preparation for a large mural of the Grand Canyon for the city ticket office of the Santa Fe Railroad in Los Angeles.  Already extremely ill, he nevertheless managed to supervise the execution of this last work at his Tucson studio.  Within a month after completing the mural, he died on November 14, 1946.  Today he is internationally famous for his western subjects, which he often signed with his logo—an Indian Thunderbird.
 
Maynard Dixon's many works—sketches, drawings, paintings, illustrations and murals—attest to the deep understanding he had of his subjects (primarily the desert and its inhabitants, the Indians, early settlers and cowboys).
 
REFERENCES:
 
Amon Carter Museum Staff, Mitchell A. Wilder, Director.  Amon Carter Museum of Western Art:  Catalogue of the Collection, 1972.  Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum of Western Art.  1973.
 
Coke, Van Deren.  Taos and Santa Fe:  The Artist's Environment  Albuquerque, New Mexico: The University of New Mexico Press.  1963.
 
Dawdy, Doris Ostrander.  Artists of the American West:  A Biographical Dictionary.  [1974] 3 vols.  Chicago: Swallow Press.  1985.
 
Falk, Peter Hastings.  Who Was Who in American Art.  Connecticut: Sound View Press.  1985.
 
Harmsen, Dorothy.  Harmsen's Western Americana.  Denver, Colorado: Harmsen Publishing Company.  1971.
 
Hughes, Edan Milton.  Artists in California:  1786-1940.  San Francisco: Hughes Publishing Company.  1986.
 
Samuels, Peggy and Harold.  Samuels' Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West.  New Jersey: Castle.  1985.
 
Taft, Robert.  Artists and Illustrators of the Old West:  1850-1900.  New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.  1953.
 

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Lafayette Dixon is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Illustrators
Painters of Grand Canyon
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Modernism
California Painters
Western Painters



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