W. R. Leigh 1866-1955

 

One of the seminal artists of the American West, William Robinson Leigh was an unsparing individualist and a famous contrarian. He was anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, anti-African-American, anti-capitalist, anti-communist, anti-government, anti-marriage, anti-Modernism, anti-art establishment, anti-everything and everybody. Born in West Virginia, Leigh’s genteel Southern family lost their plantation in the aftermath of the Civil War and he grew up, resentful and impoverished, hearing tales of antebellum glories. Leigh’s artistic talent earned him a ticket to Munich, where he spent 12 years at the academy there, perfecting his skills. He settled then in New York, where he met Thomas Moran, who encouraged the young artist to travel to the American West. Leigh followed the great man’s advice and the unspoiled Native American peoples living in vast, beautiful landscapes acted as a tonic for Leigh’s distaste for cities and civilization. Leigh would make the West his principal subject and he would come to be regarded in the same breath as Remington and Russell. Many of Leigh’s paintings are action scenes—buffalo hunts, bucking broncs, dashes and races against time. The other side of Leigh’s work, his contemplative Western canvases, spring from his profound admiration for Native Americans, especially the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo. Leigh felt that they alone respected the Earth and one another, that they alone apprehended the beauty of Nature as an instinct, with true purity unlike “civilized” man, who creates a misguided and misleading idea of Nature rooted in intellect.

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