Butte at Red Lake, September 1927
16 x 19.75 inches
Oil on canvas board
Arizona had particular importance to Maynard Dixon. He traveled there frequently, attempting to record the state's "...unbeaten mountains and unfathomable blue above." Research reveals that Dixon's first visit to Red Lake occurred in 1922, while he and his wife, photographer Dorothea Lange, passed by the small settlement in June on their way to the remote village of Kayenta. Four months later, they moved to the trading post at Red Lake. From there they explored the surrounding country on extended camping trips. It was typical of Dixon's peripatetic nature; he frequently took sojourns that lasted several months, studying, sketching and painting the vast desert landscape and its native inhabitants. At this point in his career Dixon was developing the style and approach to capturing the wide expanses of Arizona, as described by Don Hagerty, "...the wilderness of brilliant red Navajo sandstone and the paler Kayenta Formation, towering mesas, intricately carved canyons, cloud-swollen skies, and the silence and stillness." (A Place of Refuge: Maynard Dixon's Arizona).
Butte at Red Lake typifies Dixon's late 1920s and early 1930s paintings of Arizona, portraying an expanse with no particular focal point; the broad, almost limitless space becoming a place for the viewer to project both fears and hopes. The mesas in the distance were sacred to the Native Americans and unknowable, perhaps, but their depiction here suggests Dixon's limited use of "dynamic symmetry," a mathematical approach to organizing and creating compositions that became popular in the early 20th century. Butte at Red Lake is a manifestation of what art historian Linda Gibbs calls Dixon's emotional absorption into the spaciousness of the land.
Dixon's poem "The Homeland" captures this sentiment:
The mightly West looms vast before my eyes
Wide & far & facing to the sun;-
Mesa & plain, the desert & the sown,
The endless blue, & soring angel-clouds;
And in its farthest rim I see my soul
Arise, bread-winged & free, & bec[k]on me."
Signed, title, and dated "Maynard Dixon / Red Lake, Ariz. Sept. 192?" (lower left)
and signed and titled (on the reverse) "Butte at Red Lake (Navajo Res. Ariz) / Maynard Dixon / 728 Montgomery St. / San Francisco
Private Collection, Menlo Park, California
By descent until auction sale at Bonhams on 23 Nov 2009
Private Collection, Park City, Utah