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.
Primarily a self-taught artist, Edgar Payne earned critical acclaim in his lifetime for his varied depictions from the harbors of Italy and France to the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Throughout his career he was inspired by the drama of space and light and his series of works from Arizona and Utah exemplify the dramatic sense of scale that is the most sought-after quality in his work.
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)
"During their first visits in the area, Elsie and Evelyn would usually stay at nearby trading posts, such as Chinle, Ganados, or mission stations on the reservation, while Edgar made short trips, typically in a buckboard wagon with Indian guides, in the canyons. He particularly admired Canyon de Chelly, a desert canyon, winding eighteen torturous miles in northeastern Arizona and forming a spectacular gorge of sheer red sandstone cliffs, rising at their highest point to almost a thousand feet above the canyon floor." (The Paynes: Edgar and Elsie, American Artists, p. 62)
Executing highly finished pencil drawings and working en plein air with oil, Payne often worked in series to better familiarize himself with this distinct terrain in order to achieve the most dramatic final compositions. Payne discusses his process in his 1941 publication, The Composition of Outdoor Painting: "A painter needs to study, to meditate and experiment and practice interminably in order to produce a painting that would have nobility in its concept, variety, rhythm, repetition, unity, balance and harmony in its composition."
Riders on Horseback is a superb example of these 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.