William Hales was chairman of the board of Hales and Hunter Company, a feed manufacturer based in Illinois. Actively involved in his community, he was an Oak Park city trustee, honorary chairman of the board of the Chicago Theological Seminary, a member of the Union League Club, a member of the American Board for Foreign Missions, and a general chairman of the Oak Park and River Forest Community Chest.
Edgar Payne was a regular contributor to exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago where many artists were introduced to prominent patrons who funded painting trips throughout the West. In 1916, commissioned by the Santa Fe Railway, Payne traveled to New Mexico, into the Grand Canyon, and spent four months painting in Arizona's Canyon de Chelly, working closely amongst the Navajo Indians. "During that four month 'disappearance' the Paynes lived near the Navajo and Hopi Indians, observing at first hand their way of life. It was a fascinating adventure for the Paynes, one they repeated in later years, for, aside from their taste for adventure, they both had an innate sympathy and respect for these ancient peoples of the Southwest." (R.N. Cohen, The Paynes: Edgar and Elsie, American Artists, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1988, p. 62)
Riders on Horseback is a superb example of the harmonies Payne consistently strove for in all of his compositions. Impressive in scale and bold in its brushwork of billowing clouds that underscore the drama and power of nature, Payne bathes the scene in a warm southwestern light that lends an overall rhythm to the painting. Although the three riders tower above the distant mesas below, their palette and structural placement within the scene lend a natural unity with the surrounding landscape, further underscoring Payne's desire to capture the balance of life and nature in his art.
The present work has been requested for the 2012 exhibition, Edgar Payne: A Scenic Journey, organized by the Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, California.