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Throughout his life the artist Maynard Dixon found renewal for self and reinvention for his art from the West’s landscapes and cultures. In July, 1917, the Great Northern Railway, through the efforts of Foster and Kleiser, the prominent San Francisco advertising company Dixon had joined the previous fall, approached him with an offer to paint in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Dixon, eager to escape the travails of a recent divorce, quickly accepted. Accompanied by his seven-year old daughter, Constance, Dixon departed for Glacier in mid-August, 1917. Upon their arrival they were greeted by Frank B. Hoffman, a painter and illustrator he had met in New York, and who was now working for the railroad at the park. Led by guides from the Park Saddle Horse Company, Dixon, Constance and Hoffman traveled throughout Glacier’s splendid landscapes, finally arriving at Charles M. Russell’s Bull Head Lodge on the edge of Lake McDonald where they were welcomed by Russell, his wife Nancy, and Joe De Yong, a protégé of Russell. After a brief stay, Dixon and his entourage traveled to the north fork of Cut Bank Creek, on the Blackfeet Reservation. There they pitched camp among the lodges of six Blackfeet families.

The Blackfeet welcomed this tall, spare man. Dixon, a keen and compassionate observer, roamed the camp photographing or creating drawings and small oil sketches of the people engaged in daily activities. Periodically, he ventured to agency headquarters at Browning to draw and paint the Blackfeet who congregated there. At other times, Dixon took solo horseback rides for miles over the open prairie, reveling in the smell of the air and the sense of freedom. Prior to the trip he constructed an ingenious hinged wooden sketch-box suitable for a packhorse to carry, with places for his brushes, turpentine and oil paints. The box was designed with slots to slide wet oil sketches into it so they could dry without being smeared. Dixon also equipped himself with a folding easel along with a bellows-equipped Kodak camera to record the travels.

Dixon’s stay at Cut Bank ended in early October, 1917 when snow and biting cold arrived forcing him and Constance to return to San Francisco. Energized, and with “a spring in my step,” he started to produce work drawn from his experiences in Glacier and on the Blackfeet Reservation. For several years afterwards, some of Dixon’s most notable Native American- themed paintings emerged from his Montgomery Street studio, among them Lone Bull. In this 1918 painting, Dixon has captured the image of a young Blackfeet man astride his horse, dressed in only a breechcloth and leggings, relaxed but keeping a close watch over the camp’s horse herd. Beyond them the vast Montana prairie rolls toward the horizon. The Montana stay unleashed a period of creative accomplishments for Dixon as he shifted from a quasi-impressionist approach to a post-impressionist style defined by strong brush strokes, bold color patterns, and careful design. Like a number of other artists of his generation, Dixon embraced the idea that the Native American stood as a counterpoint to the destructive forces unleashed by the rise of an industrial-oriented America. For Dixon, the Indian lived and moved and had their being drawn from an older, better way of knowledge and behavior. The theme in Lone Bull was replicated in 1920 when Dixon painted Pony Boy, one of his most iconic images.

– Donald J. Hagerty
Author and noted authority on Maynard Dixon

Inscribed lower left: “To Joe”

Lone Bull is listed as number 125 on Maynard Dixon’s master painting list.

The Artist, gifted to
Joe Coppa, San Francisco, California
Present owner, by descent

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