Desert Caballeros Western Museum

photos by John Hazeltine

Wickenburg, AZ



Masters of Western Art, 1900 - 2000

November 6, 1999 - January 16, 2000


Desert Caballeros Western Museum opened an exhibition naming the 30 top western artists of the Twentieth Century on November 6, 1999. A panel of top curators, writers and critics from around the West has convened to choose the artists who best represent the grand sweep of Western art: its mythic traditions and growing diversity, its surprising complexity and frequent contradictions. In all, more than 60 paintings, sculptures, and photographs will trace the history of our century's artistic fascination with the peoples and landscapes of the West.

To identify the "masters" of western art, Desert Caballeros Western Museum sought the help of top experts in the field: Peter Hassrick, Director of the C.M. Russell Center, University of Oklahoma; Anne Morand, Curator of Art, Gilcrease Museum; Peter Briggs, Curator of Collections, University Art Museum, University of Arizona; Brian Dippie, Professor of Western History, University of Victoria, British Columbia; and independent author and scholar, Donald Hagerty. (left; F. T. Johnson, Pack Horses from Rim Rock Ranch, oil, Courtesy Desert Caballeros Western Museum)

Surveying the vast scope of western art, the panelists agreed that it is a complex and problematic domain, not easily defined or categorized. Said Donald Hagerty, the exhibition's Guest Curator: "For the past century, the West has been a vital component of American mythology and American experience. As it appears in art, the West is more a concept or a feeling than an empirical reality."

Perhaps the most popular version of the western experience is that of Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell; artists whose action-filled pictures not only recorded the closing of the frontier, but defined the way most Americans would visualize the West for the next century. The artistic tradition they founded continues unbroken and undiminished to this day. Yet at the same time, other artists inhabit other Wests. From Georgia O'Keeffe, who looked beyond culture and history to the timeless face of the land, to Allan Houser who probed the spiritual foundations of Native American life, diverse artists have scrutinized the West with different points of view, rendering very different results.

In this way,western art is a visually rich metaphor for the West of today. Dynamic, diverse, and increasingly cosmopolitan, yet close under the surface lies an enduring fascination with the American dream of wide-open spaces and the code of the cowboy -- a century of western art, its legends and truths, forever evolving and yet remaining as timeless as the land it represents.

Read more about the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/22/10

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2010 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.