Sven Birger Sandzen (1871 - 1954)
The Silent Lake, 1928
30 x 40 inches
oil on canvas
Sven Birger Sandzen painted The Silent Lake in 1928, the first of three years he spent as a summer artist-in-residence at Utah State Agriculture College (now Utah State University). He was in his professional prime, ascending to a reputation as an important American regional artist with the likes of Thomas Hart Benton and John Stuart Curry. The thick impasto and vivid colors of this painting reflect the impact of Fauvism and other influences he absorbed during his training in Paris, but they are used by Sandzen in a dynamic style entirely his own. He captures both the grandeur and the peace of a fall day in the Rocky Mountains.
Maynard Dixon (1875 - 1946)
Sage and Cottonwoods, 1932
16 x 20 inches
oil on board
By September of 1932 when this canvas was painted, Dixon had been on the road with his family for four months. It had been a rough year for the Dixon family, with few paintings selling at the height of the Depression and tensions growing between Dixon and his wife, photographer Dorothea Lange. Seemingly the only solace Dixon found was in the persistent sagebrush plants, the sturdy cottonwoods, and the homesteads that had taken shelter under the trees from the blistering sun. Perhaps better than any other painter of the American West, Dixon captured the barren beauty and quiet dignity of the high Western desert.
William Robinson Leigh (1866 - 1955)
Rainbow Bridge by Moonlight, c. 1922
36 x 48 inches
oil on canvas
signed lower left. W.R. Leigh
William R. Leigh’s first glimpse of Rainbow Bridge occurred on a blisteringly hot August day in 1922. Leigh remembered that just "under the stone arches is a pool in which Teddy Roosevelt bathed. The light of the moon is the most appropriate light in which to view this fantastic freak. With a background of enigmatic stars, it speaks a language all its own."
Fourteen years earlier, while painting in the Grand Canyon, Leigh had recorded his method for painting at night:
The night is dark. The moon will rise late, and when it does, I will be up. I have a canvas ready and a fresh candle in my lantern. My tent is insect-proof. My bed is a bag filled with pine fronds and covered with several layers of blankets. My pillow is my coat and overalls rolled up. I sleep deliciously. Through some unconscious working of the mind, I wake up because the moon is shining through the sides of my tent. . . I gather up my canvas and paint box and make my way to to spot selected for the painting of moonlight. On a stick stuck in a crack of the overhanging ledge, I hang the lantern and start in furiously [to paint] . . .
Leigh was not alone in his fascination with the nighttime desert. Maynard Dixon and Frank Tenney Johnson joined Leigh in others in creating iconic images capturing the unique light and mood of the West under moonlight. From sketches made on this trip and other journeys Leigh created some of the most iconic depictions of the American West.
John Henry Hill (1839 - 1922)
Shoshone Falls on the Snake River, 1870 - 1886
36 x 48 inches
oil on canvas board
John Henry Hill absorbed the teachings of a well-known English writer, John Ruskin, who promoted the depicting of nature in meticulous detail. Hill found his calling as an artist after serving in the Civil War, and became a painter of grand vistas with deep clarity and accuracy. Surely there is a suggestion of the sublime in Hill’s masterful depiction of Shoshone Falls, as evidenced by the massive cascades of water, which appear in stark contrast to the barren desert through which the Snake River flows. At the bottom of the image sits a lone observer, possibly Hill himself, surely in a state of wonder.
This imposing canvas measures three by four feet, with a magnificent, gilded period frame. It was painted by Hill from sketches he made in 1868 while a staff artist on Clarence King’s survey of the 40th Parallel, and was executed between 1870 and 1880, when Hill retreated to a cabin on Phantom Island in the Narrows of Lake George, New York.
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874 - 1939)
16 x 20 inches
oil on panel
Frank Tenney Johnson spent his boyhood near Council Bluffs, Iowa on the path of the Overland Trail. He was drawn again and again to the West during his career, and earned renown as a painter of meditative scenes in shadow and moonlight. In the 1930s, Johnson lived on the banks of the north fork of the Shoshone River in Wyoming, just outside the east gate of Yellowstone Park. For seven years, from 1931 to 1938, he spent much time hiking and painting in the Park, and it was most certainly during those years that he created this work.
Those lucky enough to have spent time in the Rocky Mountains will look at this painting and intrinsically feel what it must have been like on the day it was created. It is probably late afternoon, and as the sunlight recedes the breeze has a hint of chill…Above and beyond, in the remarkably clear light, the tops of the mountains reflect the last of the day’s light. It is the essence of the American West.
LeConte Stewart (1891 - 1991)
5th South and West Temple, Salt Lake City, June 1940
8 x 10 inches
oil on board
LeConte Stewart may be Utah’s most important painter of both landscapes and the American scene. Stewart’s work took a serious turn in the 1930s as the Depression deepened. Inspired by Edward Hopper and others, he portrayed city scenes, such as this one in downtown Salt Lake City, with equal parts honesty, poignancy, and skill. With his excellent draftsmanship skills, Stewart was able to employ thick brushstrokes in an economical manner to create an effective composition of vertical, diagonal, and horizontal lines. As viewers, we’re transported to a ramshackle back street that speaks of the American condition.