William Robinson Leigh (1866 - 1955)
A Horse-Fair Pilgrimage, c. 1901
Oil on paper mounted on canvas
15 7/8 x 15 1/8 inches
Signed at lower right: W.R. Leigh
Period Arts and Crafts frame
Private Collection, Old Lyme, Connecticut
[Cooley Gallery, Old Lyme, Connecticut]
Private Collection, New York, New York, until 2008
Scribner’s Magazine, October 1901 (vol. 30, no. 4), “A Horse-Fair Pilgrimage,” by E. S. Nadal, illustrated p. 389
William Robinson Leigh was born into an impoverished yet aristocratic family in West Virginia. He first studied art under Hugh Newell at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore, from 1880 to 1883. Leigh then went on to study at the Raupp-Royal Academy in Munich starting in 1883, where he developed a refined, realist style of painting. Leigh remained in Munich for some 12 years, and painted six cycloramas between 1891 and 1896.
Back in New York City in 1896, Leigh turned his precise draftsmanship towards illustrations for Scribner's and Collier's. In 1906 Leigh made a savvy deal with the Santa Fe Railroad, and exchanged a painting of the Grand Canyon for train fare out West. This led to more commissions of Western subjects, which became a central focus for Leigh. He painted all aspects of the American West, from bucking broncos to canyons, deserts and Native American Indian life. Leigh was especially skilled at capturing the vigor and musculature of animals and livestock.
Leigh's compositions tend to be illuminated by a crisp, clear light, a precision extended to the representation of space and form. According to Deborah White, the present work appears to be the original oil for an illustration that W. R. Leigh did for Scribner's Magazine in October 1901 (vol. 30, no. 4) for a story entitled "A Horse-Fair Pilgrimage" by E. S. Nadal, pages -399. It is illustrated on page 389 to accompany the following passage: "The horses contend around the track, and the big, handsome bulls doze and chew the cud before the grand stand, while the judges walk around them; the parachute man goes up, and the trained elks plunge thirty feet into water, and the man and woman in tights and spangles perform on the trapeze." (e-mail from Deborah White, May 26, 2009)