1875 – 1946
Theme/Style – Post-Impressionism, Social Realism, Modernism, figurative art, landscapes
Media – Oils, murals, drawings, illustrations
Artistic Focus – Internationally renowned as one of the greatest painters of the primitive American West, Maynard Dixon believed that the act of drawing and painting was, in essence, a universal language, and his work always reflected his disinterest in conforming to the style of the day. He maintained that nature should be the starting point for all art, and his compositions characteristically eliminated all but the most essential details of their subjects, using a subdued palette, flat planes and forceful diagonal movements to create a visual dynamic. Dixon’s works communicated a deep respect for their subject matter, and whether depicting Hopi, Navajo or Apache Indians, Depression-era farm workers or jobless urban hobos, Dixon brought the reality of their plight to his canvases without demeaning the humanity of his subjects. In speaking with art students, Dixon often would advise them that the proof of visual art lies not in any critique or explanation, but rather in what it contributes to the experience of the viewer.
Career Highlights –
- One of the few notable California painters of his generation who was a native of the state, Lafayette Maynard Dixon was born on a ranch near Fresno in 1875.
- Dixon was largely self-taught. Sickly as a child, he spent much of his time drawing and listening to stories of the Old West told by local residents. At 16 he sent his sketch book to Frederic Remington, who encouraged him to pursue an art career.
- Dixon and his family moved to Alameda, California, in 1893, the same year that Dixon’s first illustration was published in the Overland Monthly.
- Dixon enrolled at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute, but did not care for classroom work and remained only three months, working instead as a full-time illustrator for the San Francisco Morning Call in 1895 and later with the Examiner. By 1899 he was making sketching trips to the Northwest and Southwest, and exhibiting regularly with the San Francisco Art Association.
- The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed Dixon’s studio and many of his early works, and Dixon and his wife, artist Lillian West Tobey, relocated to Sausalito briefly, until 1907 when Dixon was commissioned by the Southern Pacific Railroad to paint a mural for their depot in Tucson, Arizona. Dixon then moved to New York where he resumed magazine illustrating until 1912.
- On his return to California, Dixon concentrated on easel paintings and murals, receiving a bronze medal at San Francisco’s Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. A nervous breakdown that same year was followed by a divorce, and in 1920 Dixon married photographer Dorothea Lange.
- Dixon exhibited widely through the early 1930s, including solo shows at the Oakland Art Gallery, the Stendahl Gallery in Los Angeles, the Macbeth Gallery in New York, San Francisco’s Galerie Beaux Arts, and at the Pasadena Art Museum.
- During the 1930s Dixon created murals and paintings for the WPA which were located in several California post offices, as well as at the Sacramento State Library and the Department of the Interior Building in Washington, DC, among others. His marriage to Dorothea Lange ended in 1935, and in 1937 Dixon married artist Edith Hamlin.
- In 1938 ill health prompted the Dixons to move to the drier climate of Arizona. Dixon spent his last years in Tucson, while maintaining a studio in nearby Mt. Carmel, Utah. Maynard Dixon passed away in Tucson in 1946.
- Posthumous one-man shows of Dixon’s work have been held in San Francisco at the de Young Museum in 1956 and 1968, the California Historical Society in 1975, and the California Academy of Sciences in 1981.
Bibliographic references are available upon request.