The Topmost Peak signed 'Edgar Payne' (lower left) and titled on a label (on the reverse) oil on canvas 48 x 58in overall: 57 x 67in
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Nebraska
EXHIBITED: Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute of Chicago, Artists Twenty-Fourth Annual Exhibition, January 29 - March 3, 1920 (label affixed to the reverse).
LITERATURE: The Art Institute of Chicago, The Catalogue of the Twenty Fourth Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity at the Art Institute of Chicago, listed as number 231.
By 1920, Edgar Payne was fully enthralled by the solitude and grandeur of California's Eastern Sierra mountains. Californians, at this time, were encouraged to get out into the open and enjoy nature and the great outdoors. For many, there were strong feelings that industrialization and an increase in population growth were rapidly encroaching on nature along with a worry that pristine areas were threatened. Payne made numerous trips into the wilds of the Sierras. Many of Payne's compositions are devoid of people, as he strove to portray the solitude of nature.
Payne was well known and admired as one of the foremost painters in Southern California by 1920. He won numerous awards, including at the California State Fair in Sacramento in 1918 and 1919 and at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1920. He also won first prize in a 1921 exhibition at the Southwest Museum for a painting titled Topmost Crags, which appears to be a similar but smaller version of the same scene as The Topmost Peaks. This mountain face was frequently painted by Edgar Payne and his compatriot painters and is believed to be Temple Crags, in the Palisades region of the Sierra Nevada.
The Topmost Peak shows off the artist's use of thick impasto and closely mottled dabs of colorful brushwork and detail. His use of light is masterful as he captures the contrast between the late afternoon sun coming through the canyon versus the shadows that have already befallen the hillside cascading down to the emerald lake. Judging from the large canvas used to paint this composition, and the fact that he chose to exhibit it at the Chicago Art Institute show in 1920, Payne must have considered it one of his finest works up to this point.