Permanent Galleries

Taos Valley (New Mexico Sky), about 1943

William Victor Higgins
Taos Valley (New Mexico Sky), about 1943
American, 1884–1949
oil on canvas
54 x 56 inches (137.16 x 142.24 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John T. Higgins (Classes of 1922 and 1924)

William Victor Higgins’s New Mexico Skies (August Skies) is an iconic painting of the New Mexico landscape: a panoramic desert view, captured from a precarious spot on the north rim of the Rio Grande Gorge, of white blocklike clouds floating in a brilliant blue sky over the Picuris Mountains south of Taos.

Considered the premier painter of New Mexico landscapes, Higgins was born in Shelbyville, Indiana, and in 1899 moved to Chicago, where he attended classes at the Art Institute. He traveled to Europe in 1911, as was the custom of aspiring artists, for further study and practice in various locales. Soon after returning to Chicago, he held two solo exhibitions at the prestigious Palette and Chisel Club, thereby attracting the attention of the very influential mayor, Carter H. Harrison II. The mayor and a few affluent German American businessmen with whom he had formed a syndicate sponsored Higgins’s first trip to Taos, New Mexico, in November 1914.

Higgins spent his early years there painting at the famed Taos Pueblo, the virtual center of Pueblo Indian life and culture. He sent many of his works featuring Native Americans in their everyday activities back to his sponsors in Chicago, where they won prizes in the Art Institute’s annual juried exhibitions. In 1917 the established members accepted him into the Taos Society of Artists.

During the 1920s and ’30s, Higgins was honored with one-man shows in Chicago, New York, Indianapolis, and Washington, DC. He continued to evolve as an artist, changing his approach from a form of Impressionism to styles reflecting the influence of Paul Cezanne’s and John Marin’s landscapes. During the 1930s, which he considered his era of experimentation, he explored dynamic symmetry in composition. Despite his poor health and Depression-related financial difficulties, Higgins produced important works during this period, including Gladiolas, which is also in the Snite Museum’s collection.

Following a brief marriage to San Antonio heiress Marion Koogler McNay, an aged Higgins returned to Taos and spent the 1940s painting watercolors, small oils on Masonite (later dubbed “Little Gems” by an inventive dealer), and Impressionistic landscapes. In 1943 he made a final attempt to paint a masterwork, resulting in New Mexico Skies. He exhibited the painting at the National Academy in New York before selling it to David F. Broderick. The artist’s brother, John Tilson Higgins, purchased it (erroneously titled Taos Valley) from the Broderick estate and donated it to his alma mater in 1963.