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Maynard Dixon (January 24, 1875 – November 11, 1946)

Written by Brett Nelson

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Posted on October 12 2019

Maynard Dixon was an important artist of the American 20th century. The focus of his body of works captured the American west. He is also known for being married to famed American photographer Dorothea Lange. Maynard life began in Fresno, California. He was the son of a Virginia Confederate family, they were aristocrats that had found refuge and a new home in California following the Civil War. His mother Constance Maynard was an educated woman and daughter of a US Naval officer out of San Francisco. Maynard and his mother shared a love of the arts, writing, drawing, and classical literature. Dixon studied briefly with the tonalist painter named Arthur Mathews at the CSD, California School of Design. There he became friends with Xavier Martinez and members of the Bohemian Club. He started taking illustration work to support himself, mainly from the Overland Monthly and newspapers out of San Francisco.
Around 1900 Dixon had the chance to visit New Mexico and Arizona. Here he found his lifetime passion, a desire and interest in meandering throughout the American West. He took a trip to accompany the artist Edward Borein on horseback for a year throughout the American western states. When in California he worked as a book illustrator and magazine artist, specializing in American Western themes. Among his most remembered works were illustrations for the Hopalong Cassidy book series. When he got married to his first wife, he spent time in New York with his wife and newborn daughter named after his mother, Constance. But his irresistible draw to the West bid him to eventually leave his family and go where he felt he could create with a sense of honesty. He disliked the romantic views of the West that he was being hired to create for illustrations. His first marriage ended, when he finally settled for a new life in San Francisco.
His American Western themed style became a trademark for Dixon. His work reflected his personality, one that was a good humored and colorful character of a person. He often dressed the part of a cowboy in everyday life, and was famous for wearing a bola tie, boots, and a black Stetson cowboy hat.
In 1915 he met and married his second wife, Dorothea Lange. She had a profound influence on his artwork, as is evident in the stylistic changes that appear in it after they met. He becomes a true modernist for the Western arts genre. Lange and Dixon had a daughter together, and this family became the second act of his lifetime. His simple, yet striking landscapes became a brand of their own, known for their wild mysterious feels. Almost in the style of impressionism. The colors and depth of his works were haunting, but in a way that had not been seen in the traditional cowboy and Indian art genres.
During the Great Depression, Dixon painted a series of social realist works about politics of the working class and maritime strikes. Dixon would create a unique body of work during his lifetime, one that is as superb as the poetry he wrote, another facet of his artistic personality in blood. Maynard Dixon would die in 1946 in Tucson, Arizona. His work is still held displayed in a number of American Western art specific museums and continues to be an influence on the modern generation of artists that portray landscapes, socially relevant art, and the themes of the American old West times.

View Maynard Dixon Gallery