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In his essay titled Edgar Payne’s Southwest, Peter H. Hassrick cites a biographical sketch written after the artist’s death by Payne’s wife, Elsie. “In 1916 the Santa Fe Railroad, just opening that country to tourists, sent him…to paint the Indian Pueblos and Mesas and mountains of New Mexico and the Canyon de Chelley [sic], Monument Valley and Grand Canyon of Arizona…he returned to that glorious country nearly every year that he was in America the rest of his life. It was the last place he painted before his final illness.”

In focusing on his Indian subject Hassrick writes “…Payne had clearly expressed himself about his vision as an artist, and it did not include expending effort on the mundane. The Pueblo Indians were a pastoral, agrarian people who by mid-decade had become the most popular indigenous culture in America. The Pueblo were picturesque, but the Navajo, with their nomadic ways and their expansive geographic realm, were considered sublime. Payne responded to ‘bigness’ and Navajo land promised all he could imagine.”

“But the major factor regarding Payne’s selection of Navajo land rather than the Rio Grande pueblos probably came down to patronage. The Santa Fe Railway was vigorously attempting to promote its Chicago-Los Angeles line. A new train it called ‘The Navajo’ had just been put into service in 1915, and the promotions department was anxious to increase ridership. In addition, the railroad had invested vast amounts of money in developing accommodations and amenities around the Grand Canyon. Landscape painters were in demand, and someone with Payne’s freshness of vision and adventuresome spirit would be a welcome addition to the scene.”

In any case, Payne produced a number of works portraying the Navajo traveling through the desert landscape on their rugged ponies. Payne’s talent enabled him to artistically portray the color, vastness, and silence of the Southwest.

PROVENANCE:
Biltmore Gallery, Los Angeles, California
Haylett Shaw, California, 1952
Present owners, by descent, 2007

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