Imagery of the American West
The American West has become an area of specialized interest for collectors and art buyers all over the world, and has been increasing in popularity for over 100 years. This article features five influential Western Artists of the 20th century:
These artists made significant contributions to the Western Art Scene in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of these artists added something new or left a strong, signature style in the Western art world.
Each artist biography includes representative artworks found in the public domain. Additional links to museums that hold their artworks are included for your convenience. Most museums hold permanent collections that far outnumber their display spaces. If you plan to visit in person, check with a museum's website first to see if their artworks are on display as exhibits are constantly changing.
Georgia O'Keeffe (1887–1986)
Georgia O'Keeffe may be the most well-recognized of the artists in this article, as well as the only woman featured. Her paintings have a distinctive signature style and subject matter. Much of her most famous work includes colorful depictions of botanical subjects, such as flowers.
O'Keefe was born on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, but during her early career, she moved to Texas to work as an art teacher, where she painted the Palo Duro Canyon. She also lived in New York with her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, who was an art dealer and photographer. He captured her in many portraits, and she was a favorite subject of his art. A large body of O'Keefe's work was created in New Mexico, where she lived during the spring and summer and later retired.
Georgia O'Keefe is considered to be part of the second wave of Taos, New Mexico painters. The artist colony in Taos was started by Edward Blumenschein and Bert G. Phillips, with a significant body of paintings coming from the Taos Society of Artists and later artists who flocked to Taos when it became a recognized center for American Western art.
O'Keefe's work is a significant departure from the idealized depictions of the American West created by earlier Western genre artists. Her style is distinctly modern and sometimes abstract but almost always employs bold swaths of color in sweeping brushstrokes.
Much of O'Keeffe's painting was completed in New Mexico. Santa Fe hosts a Georgia O'Keefe Museum, and her work is featured prominently in other New Mexico art museums. Her work is featured in at least 89 museums across the United States.
O'Keefe's namesake museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, maintains a site at her former residence in Abiqui House. The Georgia O'Keefe Museum also has an excellent representative collection of her works, with an online catalog. Just as interesting as the art, this museum also hosts an archive of her personal effects and correspondences.
"We get these wide bands of watercolor that are so vibrant and just seem to kind of spread across the paper on their own volition. And I think the movement of the watercolor and the way it washes across the paper here is very reminiscent of what she must have been feeling and seeing when she was walking across this broad landscape."
— Esther Adler, Museum of Modern Art, On O'Keefe's "Evening Star, No. III" 1917
Some Museums Where Georgia O'Keefe Artwork on Display
- The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe New Mexico hosts a significant collection of O'Keeffe's paintings, a research library (available by appointment), and own the O'Keeffe home in Abiquiú, New Mexico, 52 miles from Santa Fe.
- Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. Visit this museum's online catalog to view Georgia O'Keefe paintings, drawings, and photographs. Many of the artworks have educator guides that can be downloaded as PDF files.
- The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois. The Art Institute of Chicago has 22 works of O'Keeffe at the time of this writing. The catalog of their Archive is another place to find information about this important and prolific artist.
- The Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Well worth the visit in person, but the online resources at this museum are also incredible. Search by artist and see online exhibits. 13 pieces of O'Keeffe artwork are in the permanent collection of this museum, at the time of writing.
- The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco. This museum has 4 paintings in their collection. Follow the link and see a video suitable for elementary ages about O'Keeffe's artwork and her painting styles. "They traveled to the world of O'Keeffe with their minds, but they travelled with their eyes first."
Nicolai Fechin (1881–1955)
Nicholai Fechin was a Russian-born portrait artist who lived in Taos artist colony before 1933. According to writer David C. Hunt, whose article appears at the Taos Art Museum website, Fechin's best works were considered to be portraits of Native Americans and New Mexico landscapes.
Like many painters of American Western art, his paintings in New Mexico do not represent the majority of his work.
Fechin was born in Kazan, Russia, in 1881 and classically trained as an artist in Europe. His artwork uses impressionistic brush strokes but exhibits some qualities of representational artwork. Primarily known as a portrait artist, Fechin's subjects included a broad and diverse range of people, from Russian Opera Singers to New Mexico Pueblo Indians.
Fechin himself never staged his subjects using props. He tried to depict them in settings that were natural and realistic. Even though his work was impressionistic, its intent was not to display a romanticized portrait of the American West or its inhabitants. Fechin's desire to depict realistic scenes marks a movement away from the mythic works of artists like Remington, Russell, and Bierstadt, who all represented the West as a sort of Eden.
Fechin moved to New York and then to Taos, New Mexico, when civil unrest in Russia created problems for him at home. He maintained ties with his homeland and never quite felt at home in Taos, where the language barrier made it difficult for him to communicate with American artists.
In 1932 his wife divorced him, staying behind in Taos while he moved first to New York, then to Santa Monica, California. His Taos home is now the site of the Taos Art Museum and is a very beautiful whitewashed adobe structure.
Where to View Nicolai Fechin Artwork
- The Frye Art Museum in Seattle has a collection of 23 paintings and sketches by Nicolai Fechin in their permanent collection. "The Lady in Pink" portrait is considered one of his masterpieces, though it is not an example of his Western artwork. Most of these are portraits, but a view are California landscapes.
- The Taos Art Museum at Fechin House in Taos, New Mexico, is housed at the former home of Nicolai Fechin! Most of this Russian artist's artwork appears to remain at the State Russian museum. This is your best chance to see Fechin's art in America.
- The Smithsonian American Art Museum has two works of Fechin's art on display.
- The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, contains some works of Fechin. This is one of the largest museums in the world.
Henry Farny (1847–1916)
Henry Francois Farny was a French-born artist whose parents immigrated to the United States. Farny lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he painted Native Americans in everyday life, in harmony with nature. His work is highly detailed, and his Native American portraits focus on the Indian as an individual. Like the work of Couse, Henry Farny's paintings tend to show the peaceful qualities of Native Americans. Few of his works show the action scenes popularized by Remington and Russell.
Like Remington, Farny made his living as an illustrator for magazines. Farny was also a sculpter and a potter. He produced bronze sculptures, pottery, and many paintings. Farny's work is especially highly prized by art collectors.
Museums that Display Henry Francois Farny Artwork
- The Cincinnati Art Museum has an impressive collection of Henry Farny Artwork in its permanent collection. All the more so, because Henry Farny artwork doesn't seem to appear in other places. Click on the link to see the individual images on their museum catalog. Each individual work of art has its own page, identifying provenance and status of display.
- The Metropolitan Art Museum, New York, has one painting by Henry Francois Farny listed in its permanent collection. The painting, titled "A Successful Hunt," is part of a 20,000 item collection of the museum's American Wing.
Maynard Dixon (1875–1946)
Maynard Dixon, like Georgia O'keefe, developed a distinctive style that made his art depicting Western scenes iconic in the eyes of Western Art collectors. At more than one art reception I've heard a statement like "Wow, those clouds look like they belong in a Maynard Dixon painting." Maynard Dixon is one of my personal favorite Western artists, with his trademark modernist landscape style that captures the clarity of western light and vistas that seems to expand forever.
Maynard Dixon painted landscapes and scenes depicting human subjects. The landscapes are notable for their huge skies and billowing clouds. Dixon's distinctive clouds, hallmark blue skies, and minimal, early 20th century modernist landscapes are distinctively recognizable.
Dixon worked in a wide range of mediums, including gouache, oils, watercolor, charcoal, mixed media, crayon, pastels, charcoal, graphite, and pen and ink. His work is featured in 28 museums. Dixon lived in Utah and Arizona.
Dixon's Utah home and art studio in Mount Carmel Utah is available for tours, but does not contain an art collection. Dixon has a namesake museum in Tucson, Arizona, where he passed away in 1946.
The Brigham Young University Museum of Art has a collection of Maynard Dixon artwork as part of its permanent collection. Utah claims Maynard Dixon as one of its Utah artists. Dixon spent his last years in Tucson, Arizona.
“My work, outside the limits of illustration, is not the regulation ‘Wild West’ type of painting. It aims rather to interpret the vastness, the loneliness, and the sense of freedom this country inspires. I want to make my paintings show the people as a part of that. To me the wind of the wastelands has color; the opalescent ranges of the desert seem to me like music; and sometimes the giant clouds of storm, piled far above the mountains, take form as of lost and forgotten gods, serene and terrib
— Maynard Dixon
Museums and Galleries that Display Maynard Dixon Artwork
- The Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson, Arizona, houses a Maynard Dixon Art museum.
- You can view 35 artworks on the Brigham Young University Museum of Art's website. This museum contains many significant Maynard Dixon paintings in its permanent collection.
- Maynard Dixon Living History Museum. Maynard Dixon maintained a home in Mt. Carmel, Utah. His home and art studio are maintained as a living history site.
Eanger Irving Couse (1866–1936)
One of the "Taos Six" founding members of the Taos Society of Artists, Eanger Couse was born in Saginaw, Michigan, and lived in Michigan and New York most of his life and career. He only moved permanently to Taos 10 years before his death in 1926.
Couse is known for depicting Native Americans as peaceful, dignified humans instead of "war-mongering savages." Representing Native Americans in this way represented a shift from the stereotypes created during the 19th century by other representational artists who often depicted Native Americans on horseback in shootouts with the cavalry. Couse's paintings do evoke romanticized images of the West, however.
Couse, whose last name rhymes with "house" worked in oils, watercolor, charcoal, mixed media, and etching. His work had an impressionistic quality but was also considered representational. His portraits often depicted Native American people at work, often illuminated by moonlight or firelight. Overall, Couse depicted a kinder, gentler American West.
Museums that Display Irving Eanger Couse Artwork
- The Smithsonian Museum of American Art records two pieces of art by Couse in their collection.
- The Panhandle Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas is the owner of The Quiver Maker.
- Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, New Mexico, includes works of E. Irving Couse and other early founders of the Taos Society of Artists.
More on American Western Artists
- Famous American Western Artists: Remington, Russell,...
Art of the American West has become an increasingly popular genre during the last century. Here, I discuss a selection of some of the most well-known artists of the 19th-century American frontier.
© 2008 Carolyn Augustine
Artist204 on November 19, 2015:
Hello there - thank you for the great Hub. I'm with the Thunderbird Foundation/Maynard Dixon Home & Gallery and I was wondering if it's possible to add our information to your Maynard Dixon profile. The Thunderbird Foundation purchased and restored Maynard Dixon's home in Mt. Carmel, UT (where his wife Edith Hamlin buried his ashes as he'd requested). The house is open for tours and we also have a gallery on the adjacent property that displays both works by Maynard Dixon and some of the country's best contemporary western, landscape and wildlife artists. Our goal is to keep the spirit of Maynard Dixon's work alive.
If you'd like more information on our Foundation or on Maynard Dixon's home in Mt. Carmel, you can visit our website at http://www.thunderbirdfoundation.com or you can message me directly. I look forward to your reply. Thank you!
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on November 28, 2010:
Thanks Tom, I'm a particular fan of Maynard Dixon and Albert Bierstadt. Both are landscape artists. Dixon also has done some moving paintings depicting 1930s streetscapes that capture the mood and feeling of that time period, but I also think very highly of George Catlin, who captured hundreds of Native American tribal leaders in their traditional costume. His ethnographic portraits are of immeasurable historic importance beyond their artistic appeal. The truth is, it's almost impossible to choose a favorite: I enjoy many modern western artists too!
tomgurney from London on November 28, 2010:
Great hubpage, i know of O'Keeffe well, but the others are new to me and Nicolai Fechin seems particularly interesting. Do you have a favourite yourself? I love these art hubpages as it is easy to skim through the attractive imagery.
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on August 14, 2010:
Thanks Juneau, I'll have to check into that book, it sounds interesting. Glad you liked the hub. Cheers!
Richard Francis Fleck from Denver, Colorado on August 14, 2010:
I very much enjoyed reading this hub and especially like Nicolai Fechin whom I discovered by reading Frank Waters' The Colorado River, illustrated by Fechin.
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on June 19, 2009:
I especially like Maynard Dixon and Georgia O'Keefe. Thanks.
Laura Spector from Chiang Mai, Thailand on June 17, 2009:
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on June 10, 2009:
RKHenry from Neighborhood museum in Somewhere, USA on June 10, 2009:
Very nice hub.
trish1048 on June 22, 2008:
I was spellbound by the interview with Georgia. What a fascinating woman/artist.
Thanks for sharing,
wannabwesternfan on June 06, 2008:
Yes, a great hub, the artist you are looking for who went to Taos with Blumenschein was Bert Phillips.
kerryg from USA on June 06, 2008:
Another beautiful hub! I especially love Maynard Dixon - such beautiful colors.