William Robinson LeighU.S. 1866-1955
The Grand Canyon 86.0008
Wiliam Robinson Leigh's chief ambition was to paint America, particularly, the American West, its Indians, cattlemen, soldiers, and pioneers. The West was, for artists like Leigh, a natural resource that was swiftly disappearing. At one point, Leigh talked an official of the Santa Fe Railroad into giving him free transport to New Mexico in exchange for a painting. It impressed company officials so much that they commissioned five more, providing Leigh with enough funds to remain in the Southwest for several months. Leigh often took photographs to use later in his New York studio and would return from trips to the Southwest with artifacts and souvenirs that he used as props. The Grand Canyon resulted from lengthy camping trips to the rim of the canyon. Leigh often chose the most rugged and inaccessible areas of the remaining wilderness as his sketching sites, camping out with easels, paints and camping gear for weeks at a time. One of his trips to the canyon produced 150 sketches. In this way, he felt he could better communicate his feeling for its vast expanse and range of color. Trained in Munich and also in Paris, Leigh returned to New York to work as an illustrator for Scribner's. He made the first of many trips to the West in 1906 in search of subject matter for his paintings, returning annually for many years to sketch and paint. In a 1939 radio interview, Leigh remarked, "My work has been called 'documentary.' This I feel to be the finest of compliments, for I have devoted a lifetime to re-creating natural studies and have endeavored, above all else, to paint with fidelity to nature."
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