Victor Higgins - 11/1/2016

Victor Higgins, Walking Rain (Pablita Passes), circa 1916-1917
Oil on canvas, 39 3/4 x 42 5/8 inches
Gift of Robert L.B. Tobin, 1992.
 

Sometimes a picture is more than it appears initially. Sometimes it represents a moment in time, a glimpse into the life and mind of the artist. So it is with the painting Walking Rain (Pablita Passes) by Victor Higgins. At first glance, the viewer's eye goes straight to the lovely rainbow at the top of the canvas. Because the large New Mexico sky takes up the bulk of the image, it appears this is just a lovely landscape painting. A closer examination, with the help of a little research, reveals there is more to the painting. At the bottom left we see a cluster of black figures. Who are they? What are they doing?

According to El Palacio Vol IV No III, the painting, recipient of the 1917 William Randoph Hearst Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago, was made at the hour when it became known that a Hispanic girl who had posed for Higgins died from fever. The little black figures are the townspeople discussing her passing, a scene that looks like a traditional northern New Mexico velorio or wake. The black clothes and shadow caused by the storm above reflect the somber mood. Higgins' painting serves as a memorial to the girl, capturing the relationship between the people and the land of New Mexico as well as between the artist and his model.

Victor Higgins Papers, New Mexico Museum of Art Library and Archives
 

Higgins was born in Indiana and studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago where this painting was first exhibited. He became a resident of Taos and was elected a member of the Taos Society of Artists. Higgins married twice, once to Sara Parsons, the daughter of artist Sheldon Parsons, and once to Marion Koogler McNay, founder of the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. However, art historians typically describe Higgins as a loner whose true love was art. He liked to paint outdoors, en plein air, and his work is considered more modernist than other members of the Taos Society of Artists. Walking Rain (Pablita Passes) is just one of many paintings by Higgins the museum is lucky enough to own. The museum library and archives also has an extensive collection of Higgins' personal papers in the archives which were used by Dean Porter to write the book Victor Higgins : An American Master

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