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Edgar Payne

Edgar Payne

Edgar Payne. Courtesy of Arthipo

Self-Taught Painter

Although Edgar Payne was born in Cassville, Missouri in 1883, he grew up across the border in Prairie Grove, Arkansas. His father was a carpenter and Payne learned that trade along with painting. To support himself, Payne took regular trips around the country to paint houses, murals, portraits, and stage sets. He briefly enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago but found the curriculum too structured, so he opted to teach himself.

Establishing a Family and Career

In his mid twenties, Payne ventured to California, making extended stops to paint landscapes in Laguna Beach and San Francisco; in the latter city, Payne met his future wife, fellow artist Elsie Palmer. Both Payne and Palmer returned to Chicago and the couple married in 1912. Together they were active members of the local art scene. Payne set up a studio downtown and soon exhibited at the Art Institute. In 1914, the couple welcomed a daughter named Evelyn.

Western Landscapes and the Alps

Soon thereafter, the family returned to San Francisco and Payne began to paint extensively in Northern California. This included a trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, considered by many Payne’s most famous subject. From 1917 to 1929, Payne was awarded a large commission to paint several scenes of the Southwest along the Sante Fe Railroad. Through Payne’s effort, the railroad increased greatly in popularity. In the early 1920s, Payne and Palmer went to Europe on a painting excursion, which was highlighted by a visit to the Alps, where Payne rendered Mont Blanc.

Artistic Legacy

During the Great Depression, the couple moved around America often and ultimately separated in 1932. Payne then settled in Los Angeles but spent much of his time painting in the Sierra Nevadas. He produced a documentary about the mountains and wrote a guide on outdoor painting as well. In 1946, Payne developed cancer and Palmer returned to care for him until his death the following year. Today there is a place high in the Sierra Nevadas named Payne Lake to honor the painter who dedicated himself to representing the landscape’s rugged beauty.

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Edgar Payne