William Robinson Leigh (1866–1955)

A celebrated painter of dramatic Western scenes, William Robinson Leigh produced works that embodied Americans’ ideal frontier. Leigh exhibited his artistic talent at an early age and purportedly, used the sides of his family’s farm buildings as supports for his drawings. At the age of 14, the young artist moved to Baltimore where he enrolled at the Maryland Institute of Art. Just three years later, he traveled to Munich where he joined the Royal Academy from 1883 – 1886.

In 1896, Leigh moved to New York where he began creating illustrations for books and periodicals such as McClure’s Magazine, The Century, and Scribner’s Magazine. The artist traveled West in 1906 at the behest of the Santa Fe Railroad Company. This trip greatly influenced Leigh and his later works would focus on images of the Western landscape, its unique wilderness, and inhabitants. His “straight forward” canvases of the West were appreciated by critics, one of who claimed that the “frankness in their story telling . . . makes them pleasant companions.”

The artist again found himself in uncommon territory when he was commissioned to paint backgrounds for the African section of the American Museum of National History in 1926. Leigh traveled to East Africa to gain inspiration and subsequently produced a number of meticulously painted scenes of the African forests and plains. In addition to his commissions, Leigh found public recognition, exhibiting at the Paris Salon, National Academy of Design (of which he was an academician), the Corcoran Gallery, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Today, his work is included in the collections of the American Museum of Natural History, the Gilcrease Museum, and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.
“Western Paintings by W. R. Leigh,” The New York Times, January 30, 1918.

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