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    William Robinson Leigh (American, 1866-1955)
    The Last Watering Hole, 1912
    Oil on canvas laid on panel
    37 x 49 inches (94.0 x 124.5 cm)
    Signed, dated, and inscribed lower left: W.R. Leigh / New York. 1912

    Private collection, Connecticut;
    Private collection, Connecticut, wedding gift from the above, circa 1940;
    By descent to the present owner.

    In 1912 William Robinson Leigh, who had built his early career illustrating for New York magazines, first experienced the Western culture of Arizona, a seismic moment that redirected his art production for the next forty years. Eager to establish himself as a landscape and genre painter, Leigh had ventured West in 1906 under the auspices of the Santa Fe Railway, imaging scenes of the Grand Canyon for its advertising campaign. This commission led to his 1912 trip to Ganado, Arizona, where the artist befriended the guide and interpreter Don Lorenzo Hubbell, whose trading post served as a hub for Anglo writers and artists. It was on this fortuitous trip that Leigh fully came into his own as a recorder of both cowboy and Indian life, forming the foundation of his powerful paintings of the Southwest, which he translated from field sketches back in his New York studio. The Last Watering Hole is a masterwork from 1912, a watershed year in the artist's career.

    Leigh was born in 1866 and grew up in rural West Virginia, where he showed a very early aptitude for art. Born into a family that had lost their fortune in the Civil War, he was able to attend the Maryland Institute in Baltimore at the age of fourteen, through the generosity of his aunt and uncle. Leigh excelled at the institute, and left to study at the Royal Academy in Munich only a few years later. He studied in Germany for another twelve years, and returned to America with a mastery of the techniques of the Old Masters. While he had long dreamed of venturing into the American West to stoke his artistic imagination, the necessity of earning a living led to his decade long work as an illustrator for the leading publications of the day, such as Collier's and Scribner's Magazine. Like his contemporary Frederic Remington, Leigh bristled at the constraints and lack of creativity in terms of subject matter and style that were necessary in the illustration market. He felt that his true artistic talent would not reach its full potential until he could put aside his work as an illustrator.

    In 1897, Leigh had made a brief trip to Wyoming for Scribner's Magazine to gather material for a story on Western wheat farmers. That trip whetted his appetite for more travels in the West, but economic necessity would keep him away from fulfilling that dream until 1906, when he entered into a mutually beneficial arrangement with the Santa Fe Railroad. In exchange for free passage to the Southwest, Leigh agreed to paint images of the Grand Canyon and other Western subjects for use in the Railroad's advertising campaigns. Leigh had been invited by a friend from his Munich days to visit Laguna, New Mexico and his contract with the Santa Fe railroad allowed him to spend several weeks soaking up the Southwestern landscape and culture. That initial trip was profoundly influential on his career and development as an artist. During the next several years, he traveled extensively in the Southwest and throughout the West, including the Yellowstone territory of Wyoming and Montana. At each location, he spent as much time as possible painting outside, often under the shade of a large umbrella. He painted throughout the day and often arose in the middle of the night to capture the cool colors of the moonlit landscape.

    The Last Watering Hole stands as powerful encapsulation of the life-and-death struggle of the cowboy pioneers of the Southwest. With his hallmark pastels and atmospheric lighting, Leigh renders the soft pinks of the sandstone cliffs set against a brilliant blue sky at midday, and he suggests the ruggedness and awesomeness of the terrain through bulbous stone outcroppings and a deep canyon that stretches far into the distance. The focal point of the scene is two men, fighting desperately to drink from what might be the last source of water available to the parched pioneers. This critical struggle is a very real portrayal of what pioneers would experience in the southwest, as they strove to discover and develop this majestic portion of America. Leigh's earlier experience as an illustrator no doubt gave him ample experience in constructing a visual narrative, but paintings such as this one sprang completely from his own imagination. They were conceived as dramatic vignettes of the Old West, stories of a time and place that continue to have a powerful hold on the popular imagination.

    All of Leigh's skills as an artist and storyteller are amply displayed in a scene that was likely the result of hours of sketching and preparation. The Last Watering Hole has resided in one family since 1940, when it was presented as a wedding gift to newlyweds in Connecticut, and has remained in one family ever since. Heritage is honored to present this masterwork for the first time to the public in nearly eighty years.

    More information about William Robinson Leigh, also known as Leigh, William Robinson, Leigh, William, William Robinson Leigh.

    Condition Report*: Craquelure and surface dirt; a small flake of loss to the right of tallest figure's head and another smaller loss above his left shoulder; two flakes of loss at upper center; another small flake of loss between figure's feet; under UV light, there appears to be approx. 2 inch wide band of inpaint through top 5 inches of the painting and another band - fluctuating in width from less than 1/2 inch to approx. 4 inches above signature through the bottom.
    Framed Dimensions 43.5 X 55 Inches
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. Heritage does not guarantee the condition of frames and shall not be liable for any damage/scratches to frames, glass/acrylic coverings, original boxes, display accessories, or art that has slipped in frames. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2019
    1st Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,374

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