|William Robinson Leigh — Study for ‘The Best of the Bunch”|
|Study for ‘The Best of the Bunch”
Medium: Pencil on paper
Dimensions: h: 14 x w: 16.9 in
Signed and inscribed, “W. R. Leigh; Made for the Best of the Bunch”
The art of the American West can best be described as a celebration of a way of life and one of its foremost exponents was the painter, William Robinson Leigh. His extraordinary works provide depictions of the traditions and the history of the pioneers, Native Americans and cowboys of the West, as well as narratives of their daily lives.
Born in 1866 on a farm located near Falling Waters, West Virginia, William Leigh's artistic training began at the age of fourteen, when he began his studies with Hugh Newell at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore. His initial education was financed by the collector W. W. Corcoran and wealthy relatives provided the funds for his continued education at the Royal Academy in Munich, Germany. His use of traditional European techniques branded him as the "Sagebrush Rembrandt" and his bold use of color greatly lent itself to the monumental vistas and dramatic action of his Western paintings.
Leigh first visited the southwest in 1906 under the sponsorship of the Santa Fe Railroad Company, exchanging a painting of the Grand Canyon for a train journey to New Mexico. The Company was later to commission five more works allowing the artist the opportunity to roam the vast expanses of the West capturing what was to become a dying way of life. In his paintings of The Buffalo Hunt and the Buffalo Drive, Leigh focused upon what was both a political issue and a traditional aspect of Indian life. The population of the North American buffalo used to number some sixty million, but almost reached extinction due to the encroachment of settlers and the adventures of commercial hunters. Its demise was exacerbated by federal government policy of the 1880's which actively encouraged the extermination of this magnificent beast as a means of forcing Native American tribes onto reservations. For the Native American, the animal was a bountiful source of food, clothing and shelter and the buffalo hunt a central aspect of their survival. Leigh, like many Western artists, chose to celebrate this aspect of Native American culture, at the same time highlighting its passing.
William Robinson Leigh is widely considered to be one of the most accomplished painters and draughtsmen of the American West, his work comparable to that of Frederic Remington and Charles Marion Russell. The decade of the 1940s is considered to be the highpoint in his painting career and in the highly publicized 1944 exhibition of Leigh’s works he was described as,“ the last great painter of the Old West.” In these beautiful studies his dramatic use of shading, his ability to capture action and Leigh’s phenomenal knowledge of both animal and human anatomy is exquisitely shown.