Maynard Dixon (1875-1946)
Maynard Dixon (1875-1946)

The Pony Boy

Maynard Dixon (1875-1946)
The Pony Boy
signed and dated 'Maynard Dixon 1920' and with Thunderbird (lower left)--inscribed with title '(Blackfeet Inds. Montana)' and 'Maynard Dixon. 728 Montgomery St. San Francisco' on the stretcher
oil on canvas
36 x 72 in. (91.4 x 182.9 cm.)
The artist.
Mr. and Mrs. William H. Hoffman, Jr, 1921.
The San Francisco Chronicle, November 1920
The San Francisco Examiner, 1920
Los Angeles Evening Express, March 1921
The San Diego Evening Tribune, 1921
Wesley M. Burnside, Maynard Dixon: Artist of the West, Provo, Utah, 1974, pp. 15, 17, 67, 69 and 161, illustrated
M. Hal Sussmann, "California Connections: Kay Haley collects artists whose California roots complement her own southern California heritage," Southwest Art, June 1988, pp. 28-29, illustrated
Donald J. Hagerty, Desert Dreams - The Art and Life of Maynard Dixon, Layton, Utah, 1993, pp. 103, 104, 131, illustrated
San Francisco, California, S. & G. Gump and Company, 1920
San Diego, California, Francis C. Orr Gallery, 1921
Los Angeles, California, Stendhal Galleries, 1921
Los Angeles, California, Biltmore Salon, 1924
Santa Barbara, California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Masters of the West, August-September 1971
San Francisco, California, California Historical Society, Maynard Dixon Retrospective Exhibition, February-April 1975
Laguna Beach, California, Laguna Beach Museum of Art, Southern California Artists: 1880-1940, July-August 1979
San Francisco, California, California Academy of Sciences, Maynard Dixon: Images of the Native American, June-October 1981, p. 18, illustrated
San Buenaventura, California, Ventura County Historical Museum, Art of the American West from County Collections, June-August 1985, p. 3

Lot Essay

The Pony Boy, was purchased by Katherine Haley's parents Mr.and Mrs. Walter Hoffman in 1921. However, before Dixon would sell his Pony Boy to the Hoffmans, he insisted upon meeting the future owners and see exactly where the painting would hang in their home. Dixon traveled to Ventura County, and visited the Hoffmans at Rancho Casitas, and decided then that The Pony Boy would have a good home. He sold the painting to the Hoffmans for the sum of $1,500.

Maynard Dixon's The Pony Boy, is a spectacular and important example from the artist's transitional period. A romantic view of a lone Native American resting on horseback with a herd of wild horses and buttes in the distance, this picture projects a feeling a freedom and space that the Plains Indians cherished. The Pony Boy is important not only for it's scale and high quality, but because it is the first of a series of works that represents a shift in Dixon's artistic direction that occured in the early 1920's. This shift transformed his previously conservative realistic view of subject and composition into a strong emphasis on space and form through rhythm of color and light in a decidedly modern manner. This is evident in the powerful horizontal format of The Pony Boy, where Dixon's experiences as a youth in the flat San Joaquin Valley are reflected in his mature work. "No doubt", he once reflected, "these flat scenes have influenced my work, I don't like to psychoanalyze myself, but I have always held my boyhood impressions are responsible for my weakness for horizontal lines." (Donald J. Hagerty, Desert Dreams: The Art and Life of Maynard Dixon, Layton, Utah, 1993, p.5)

Dixon was born in Fresno, California, located in the midst of the wide plains of the San Joaquin Valley which was the heart of California's Vaquero country. Dixon's early artistic influences came from his childhood exposure to this rough and rugged land. As a youth, Dixon suffered from asthma, and consequently was unable to play with his classmates. He instead withdrew into a world of imagination and solitude and dreamed of the great western icons, such as Geronimo, Stonewall Jackson and Sitting Bull. At as early as six years of age, he began to draw these figures and create stories around his own sketches. There was no formal artistic study available at that time in Fresno, and as a result, Dixon began his own self education in drawing. At sixteen, Dixon was as avid reader of magazines such as Harper's, The Art Journal and was very intrigued with the illustrators represented in these magazines, particularly Frederic Remington. He made several sketches and sent them off to Remington, who declared that the young Dixon possessed strong talent and encouraged him to follow his artistic yearnings. Maynard Dixon followed his mentor's advice and pursued professional instruction at the California School of Design in San Francisco under Arthur Mathews. However, not acclimating well to the riggers and artistic confinement of Mathew's classroom, Dixon left the school after just three months and accepted a position as an illustrator for Overland Monthly. He eventually became a popular illustrator for the San Francisco Call, The Chronicle, The Examiner and Harper's Weekly.
Dixon traveled to New York in 1908 and immediately secured a position at Century Magazine as a Western illustrator. There, Dixon created illustrations that competed with the best illustrators at the time. However, unlike many of the illustrators on the East Coast, Dixon knew firsthand the experience of the American West. Consequently, he later complained, "I'm getting paid to lie about the West. I'm going back home to where I can do honest work." (as quoted in Wesley M. Burnside, Maynard Dixon, Artist of the West, Provo, Utah, 1974, p. 55) "[He] knew that the West was not always in conflict, as eastern myths had too often dictated - the cowboy was not always on a bucking horse and the Indian was not always on the warpath. Dixon wanted to realistically portray the more ordinary pursuits of people he knew and admired and with whom he had developed an affinity - people who actually inhabited the West." (Burnside, p. 55). He returned to San Francisco in 1913, and established a studio on Montgomery Street. Dixon's creativity flourished and his work expanded from teaching at the California School of Fine Arts to illustrating regularly for Sunset Magazine. He also obtained numerous commissions for mural paintings, while regularly exhibiting at local galleries and competitions. In constant search of creative stimulation, he traveled frequently throughout the western states and endeavored to capture the authentic west onto his canvases.

Maynard Dixon's portrayal of the American West reflects his own attitudes and artistic imagination which brought the current contemporary art movements to a new horizon. Throughout his long and prolific career, Dixon believed deeply in self-expression and pursued art for its own sake. "He was not interested in the sanctity of the art of painting itself. Rather he reached for a personal, even idiosyncratic, vision in his art, through the visible world. His art was a process of organic creation, rather than one consciously organized by imported formula or rule." (D.J. Hagerty, Desert Dreams - The Life and Art of Maynard Dixon, Layton, Utah, 1993, p. XXIV) An individual who personally shunned formal academic training because of its confining structure, Dixon created his own unique vision of the great West and has left an enduring legacy of an authentic record of the American West.