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Maynard Dixon (American, 1875-1946)
Also known as: Dixon, Lafayette MaynardBirth Place: Fresno (Fresno county, California, United States)
Throughout his life, Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) showed a capacity for artistic growth anchored by an uncanny ability to develop a new rationalized and reflective imagery. By 1915, he began to abandon his earlier illustration-based techniques as he embarked on a quest for a more personal and distinctive style in his painting, eventually emerging as one of the West's more progressive artists. The four Dixon works in this auction offer insight into this journey. A major influence on this new direction was the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition held that year in San Francisco. Focal points of the exposition were the nearly 12,000 works of art scattered in various galleries. Dixon credited the "modern" section of the exposition's art exhibitions with revising his ideas about color and the use of space in a composition and was particularly moved by some of the American impressionists, and even more so by several prominent French painters.
Inspired by what he had seen at the exposition and wanting to test some new vision in his painting, Dixon decided to visit Arizona. In April, 1915, Dixon arrived in Arizona accompanied by his wife and five-year old daughter where they resided for several weeks in Tempe so the family could acclimate to the arid climate. After renting a team of horses and a camp wagon, the Dixon family then headed for the Fort Apache and White River Apache Indian reservations. For several weeks he explored and painted along the White and Black Rivers, and around the army post at Fort Apache. "Plenty good types and old timers in here. Expect good stuff," he recalled. Although he devoted considerable time taking care of his wife and daughter, Dixon returned to San Francisco with over thirty-five canvases, among them Desert Pool and the Banks of Black River. Painted on the spot, they reflect hints of impressionist and postimpressionist techniques-rich surface area, strong colors, and loose, thick paint. They are evidence that Dixon could translate his observations of the art at the Panama Pacific International Exposition into his painting.
During the grim realities of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Dixon, like many of his fellow California artists, turned to public-funded art projects such as the Works Project Administration (WPA), Public Works of Art Program (PWAP) and the Federal Arts Project (FAP). In order to support him, his second wife photographer Dorothea Lange, and their two sons, Dixon submitted bids to create murals for libraries, post offices, schools, and other public buildings. Dixon had garnered national recognition for his bold striking murals such as the Room of the Dons at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco and the Pageant of Tradition for the California State Library in Sacramento. Sometime in 1936, Dixon created a gouache painting titled Two Packers. Most likely, this was part of a series of studies intended for a mural at San Francisco's Presidio Junior High School. The mural would portray important events in the nearby Presidio's long, epic history, recording the role of wildlife, Native Americans, padres, soldiers, trappers and traders through the Spanish, Mexican and American periods. This particular image has the Dixon trademark for murals; figures placed in silhouette against a low horizon, empowering the picture. But before Dixon could begin work on the mural itself, he received word from local PWAP administrators the project had been canceled due to lack of funding.
By 1944, Dixon's paintings had settled into a readily recognizable style marked by bold shapes, strong colors and a "less is better" approach to the design. Now living in Tucson, Arizona he and his third wife Edith Hamlin would make frequent trips to and from their Mt. Carmel, Utah summer home. Their route would take them through parts of the sprawling Navajo Reservation. Never one to ignore the passing landscape, Dixon made numerous pencil sketches of the terrain and the Navajo. Back in his Tucson studio, he created Rocky Hillside. The painting has all the elements that mark his compositions now; robust draftsmanship, crisp-edged shadows, delicate but pure tones of sunlight on the massive block of Navajo Sandstone and the passing rider and unique spacing. Even in his smaller paintings Dixon was able to organize abstract elements into coherent structures.
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