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Victor Higgins: The Story Behind the Cover

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Victor Higgins, a native of Indiana born in 1884, showed artistic talent from childhood and began his art studies in Chicago at the age of fifteen. He took classes at the prestigious school of the Art Institute of Chicago, worked as a commercial artist and studied in Europe for two years before returning to the United States in 1913. His work attracted the attention of a group of prominent Chicago collectors, and they sponsored the young artist to travel to New Mexico to paint images of Taos and its environs.

A group of pioneering artists had begun to visit Taos in the early 1890s, and in 1898, Bert Geer Phillips became the first painter to settle there permanently. Other artists were eventually attracted to the remote town and, in the summer of 1915, six of them banded together to form the Taos Society of Artists. Higgins visited for the first time in November 1914 and soon became acquainted with the town’s burgeoning art community. Higgins was voted to full membership in the Taos Society in 1917.

As one of the younger members of the Society (its senior member, Joseph Henry Sharp, was born in 1859), Higgins brought a distinctly modern sensibility to his work. The artist’s style reflected his exposure to contemporary art movements during his studies in Europe and Chicago. Beginning in 1920, Higgins began to further distinguish himself by increasingly focusing his attention on the landscape and the occasional still life. This was in contrast to the Native American portraiture and scenes of domestic life in and around Taos Pueblo that were more characteristic of his colleagues. Rounded Mountain Forms, painted in the mid-1920s, is a classic example of the artist in his heyday as a landscapist.

Higgins was characterized by his contemporaries as a “loner,” and painting outdoors in both summer sun and winter snow appealed to his independent spirit and solitary tendencies. As with Rounded Mountain Forms, he composed his mountain landscapes with their subjects filling eighty percent or more of the canvas, with just a sliver of sky at the very top, thus rendering a series of magnificent “portraits” of the Taos Mountains. Through his evocation of the quality of light and the monumental architecture of the foothills and mountain peaks, Higgins was able to elicit a broad emotional range from his landscape paintings, from sunny and buoyant to dark and brooding. Higgins’ mountain landscapes are widely considered some of his finest paintings.

For more information about this painting and other works by early American artists and artisans of Santa Fe, Taos and the American West, please contact Zaplin Lampert Gallery or see zaplinlampert.com.

By David Clemmer

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Leah Pinkus