Today marks the birthday of another SRM artist, William Robinson Leigh. Of the painters who gained fame as delineators of the American West around the turn of the century, Leigh is routinely cited as the most thoroughly trained. He studied at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore at the age of 14 and left for Germany a few years later to attend the Royal Academy in Munich.

William R. Leigh | Bears in the Path (Surprise) | 1904 | Oil on canvas | 21 1/8 x 33 1/8 inches

In 1900, after having met the American landscape artist Thomas Moran and hearing of the artist’s appeal for more native art rather than imitations of foreign styles, Leigh confirmed his interest in the West. Leigh wished to paint what he thought to be uniquely American, and for Leigh, the West embodied everything that was intrinsically American. But it was not until the artist was nearly 40 that he was able to pursue his boyhood dream of painting the American West.

In 1906, Leigh traveled to New Mexico. The artist fell in love with the desert country and returned to the Southwest every summer for the next three years. Beginning in 1910, Leigh also accepted invitations to join hunting trips to the Yellowstone region and the high ranges of the Rockies. It was during these journeys to the West when Leigh had his first encounter with American Indians of the Crow and Sioux tribes.

In the thirties, Leigh also wrote articles, plays, and short stories while teaching at the Art Students League and the New York Evening School of Industrial Art. Leigh continued to paint scenes of the West, with the works of his last fifteen years to be considered among his greatest. Formally recognized by the National Academy of Design, Leigh was given the title National Academician in 1955, days before his death. Leigh died on March 11, 1955, after a productive morning of painting.

William R. Leigh | The Hold Up (The Ambush) | 1903 | Oil on canvas | 32 3/4 x 22 3/4 inches