1918 OIL ON CANVAS CONSIDERED ONE OF ARTIST’S SIGNATURE PAINTINGS
By Mary Adair Dockery
With its high-octane snapshot of an Indian on horseback racing through the light-suffused desert, Indian Rider epitomizes the work of Western genre painter William Robinson Leigh. Here, a Plains Indian – identified by his beaded moccasins and feather hair decoration – clutches his rifle and leans into his pinto, urging him onward as they flee from a posse on the horizon.
Leigh utilizes his famous pastel palette to render the sagebrush, rocks and background mesa of the arid landscape, and he further underscores the “heat” of the action through elements in motion – dust swirling, horse legs pounding, and hair, mane and leather pants streaming.
Indian Rider, painted in 1918, is featured in Heritage’s American Art auction scheduled for May 7, 2016, in Dallas. It’s expected to realize at least $400,000. Leigh’s 1932 oil on canvas Home, Sweet Home realized $1.19 million at a November 2011 Heritage auction.
Indian Rider is one of Leigh’s earliest paintings to feature what would become his most commercial compositional formula: an up-close image of a single cowboy or Indian on a leaping horse in the middle of a sun-drenched canyon or desert.
In the book W.R. Leigh: The Definitive Illustrated Biography, author June DuBois describes the immediacy of these paintings: “So vivid and realistic is Leigh’s rendering of flashing hooves and flying and distorted bodies, both equine and human, that the viewer feels his own perch on the top rail should be abandoned for a view through the knothole.”