Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) Clouds and prairie, 1921 12 x 18in
Lot 179
Maynard Dixon
Clouds and prairie, 1921 12 x 18in
Sold for US$ 104,500 inc. premium

Lot Details
Maynard Dixon (1875-1946)
Clouds and prairie, 1921
signed, dated and inscribed 'Maynard Dixon / Sandhill Camp. May 1921.' (lower left) and signed, titled and numbered '184 Clouds and Prairie / Maynard Dixon' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas board
12 x 18in
overall: 20 x 26in


    Private collection, Los Altos Hills, California

    Donald J. Hagerty, Desert Dreams: The Art and Life of Maynard Dixon, Layton, Utah, 1993 and Revised Edition 1998, p. 106, no. 85, illustrated.

    Exhausted after completing a major mural for a steamship in San Francisco and suffering from severe asthma, Maynard Dixon decided to reinvigorate his art in the spring of 1921. He stayed several months at Refuge, the Madera County ranch operated by his uncle, George Washington Mordecai. Dixon's father, Harry St. John Dixon, established the ranch in 1868 but when his sister Constance married Mordecai, sold him the entire ranch, several thousand acres, for the total of six dollars. Both Harry Dixon and George Mordecai had fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. They called the ranch Refuge, a place of retreat, they thought, from the misfortunes of the devastating war. This historic property, originally in Fresno County but now part of Madera County, has been preserved by Mordecai's descendants as a working ranch.

    No doubt Dixon remembered his uncle, who had died in June, 1920. At Refuge he found solace and inspiration once again in the open and stark landscape of the San Joaquin Valley. Riding horseback over the rangeland, Dixon created numerous drawings and paintings of horse and semi-wild cattle herds, dry arroyos, alkali sinks, ranch buildings, working cowhands and the faraway horizon shadowed by billowing clouds after spring rainstorms. Depiction of range life and the working cowboy emerged as a theme early and remained strong throughout his life. By the early 1920s, Dixon turned more to the landscape as he probed the terrain's surface realities in search of a deeper and spiritual realism. He tried to record the sensation of space, searching for something profound, an art that reflected an intuitive certainty through his ability to read the patterns of a particular place.

    In Clouds and Prairie, Dixon has captured the calmness of the San Joaquin with a precise rendering of reality, the horses providing scale for the treeless landscape. An almost minimalist work, Dixon has captured the land's colors as it begins the transition to the hot yellow color of summer. By the early 1920s, Dixon's palette encompassed sharp clear colors laid down in bold brushstrokes. Ascending clouds move across the blue sky, accentuating the feel of unlimited space. Struck by the designs and power of clouds, Dixon explored through his paintings the contrasting elements of sky, cloud and land where it meets the far horizon. Dixon grew up exploring the vast San Joaquin plains where one could ride for hours, even days, without seeing another human being. Recalling that influence in an article for the Sacramento Bee in 1930, he stated that "these flat scenes have influenced my work. I don't like to psychoanalyze myself, but I have always felt my boyhood impressions are responsible for my 'weakness for horizontal lines."

    Dixon often stayed at a place on the Mordecai ranch called Sandhill Camp. The location must have been particularly provocative for numerous drawings and paintings from this trip are annotated with the name. As he did for most of his life, Dixon connected his paintings with poetry, celebrating his keen sense of place, as illustrated by Sandhill Camp:

    Some day I shall make camp at that place
    so far, so lone upon the empty plains!-
    close to the ground there shall be camp for me.
    Low against the brightness of the west
    lies the long Coast Range, cut clear
    from Diablo, faint in the north in the blue southward spur
    that ending in mirage hides Coalinga.
    There is bending prairie grass at that place, and swales
    where little pools have dried.
    white-diamonded in rings of alkali.
    And two good saddle horses I will have.
    and a lean brown cowboy there to ride with me;
    and I will stay awhile, easily, and dream
    in that place with the sun and meditate
    upon the generous largeness of this earth,
    the nameless intimacy of grass and sky;
    upon the confident placidity of animals
    and the wonder of cool water
    drawn up from the deep solid ground,-and then-
    the wailing of coyotes in the night;-
    all those, and the innumerable stars.

    Listed as number 184 in Maynard Dixon's master painting list with a sale price of $100.

    We are grateful to Donald J. Hagerty for his assistance in writing this essay.
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