Mesas in Shadow

Artist: Maynard Dixon
Mesas in Shadow

Maynard Dixon (1875-1946), Mesas in Shadow, 1926, Oil on canvas, Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Herald R. Clark.

Commentary by Paul L. Anderson
Curator of Southwest American Art

Anyone who has ever tried to take a snapshot of a dramatic Western landscape knows that it isn’t easy. Most of the time, the grandeur of the mountains and the sweep of the plateaus seem reduced and unimpressive in a quick photo, lacking the awe-inspiring qualities that the viewer hoped to capture.

This was exactly the problem for the first generation of talented and well-educated artists who began painting the Southwest in the early twentieth century. Trained in the leading American and European art academies, they had learned how to paint gentle green landscapes in soft sunlight. But how could they portray the overwhelming mass of the Rockies, the endless horizon of the deserts, and the brilliant—at times almost blinding—Western sunshine?

No one was better at painting the spirit of this vast landscape than California-born Maynard Dixon. In this luminous painting—one of his masterpieces—we see the bigness and brightness of the West. We are looking toward the afternoon sun, so the deep purple shadow side of the flat-topped mesas contrasts with the brilliant orange of the sunlit sand. The dark cliffs stretch across the painting from edge to edge, implying that an expansive vista continues far beyond the canvas. Overhead are huge gray clouds with sunlit linings against the deep blue sky, all apparently moving slowly in limitless space toward the edge of the world. Awesome.


Click here to read Sarah Dyer’s response

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