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Edgar Alwin Payne Biography

Recognized as one of California's leading landscape artists, Payne’s work will always assure him a favored place in the history of American Impressionism.  He is internationally renowned for his depictions of the High Sierras, Indians riding through desert canyons, landscapes of the Sierra Nevada and French and Italian boat scenes as well as authoring a book titled Composition of Outdoor Painting.

Born in Washburn, Missouri, Edgar Payne, like many artists, felt so strongly called by art that at age fourteen he ran away from home to pursue a career forbidden by his father.  He earned money painting houses, stage sets and murals, and traveled through the Ozarks, Texas, Mexico and Chicago.

He was self-taught except for a brief period at the Art Institute of Chicago. While there, he was active with the Chicago Society of Artists and the Alumni Association of the Art Institute.
In 1909, he first visited California and painted scenes of Laguna Beach and San Francisco. During this time he discovered the beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where he returned continually throughout his career for the inspiration that led to his signature paintings and a turning from murals and stage sets to landscape painting.

While in San Francisco he met artist Elsie Palmer whom he married in Chicago in 1912. In 1916, the Santa Fe Railroad commissioned him to paint the Southwest, and the couple spent four months in Canyon de Chelly.  In 1917 he returned to Glendale, CA with a commission from Chicago's Congress Hotel for a mural of 11,000 square yards of muslin which was accomplished with the help of other local artists and installed shortly thereafter. The Payne’s also traveled and sketched the Grand Canyon and scenes of New Mexico. In 1918 they established a home and studio in Laguna Beach where he organized and became the first president of the local art association. He continued painting and exhibiting in Los Angeles and Laguna until 1922 when he and Elsie began a two-year painting tour of Europe. There, in 1923 at the Paris Salon, Payne won an Honorable Mention, which was significant recognition because more than 7000 paintings were exhibited. During the next eight years their winter residence was mainly in and around NYC. They had planned to build a house there, but did not start the project because of the economy. During the Depression, Payne took teaching jobs to earn money for him and his family. He also wrote his book on his art theories and techniques - "Composition of Outdoor Painting", which was published in 1941. With many printings, it has been a popular guide to landscape painting and is still as valid today as it was then.

They traveled from coast to coast in the U.S. until 1932 when they returned to Hollywood and the following year separated.

Payne produced a color motion picture called "Sierra Journey" and Payne Lake in the High Sierra is named for him. He never had enjoyed great health and on April 8, 1947, after a six-month illness, he died of cancer. After his death, his wife Elsie promoted Edgar’s work through museum exhibitions and commercial galleries. There never was a period in which people forgot the name of Edgar Payne or did not collect his work.  

Member: Salmagundi Club (NYC); Laguna Beach AA (founding member and first president, 1918); Calif. Art Club (pres. 1926); Chicago Society of Artists; AAPL; Carmel AA. Exhibited: Palette & Chisel Club, 1913; Calif. State Fairs, 1917, 1918 (medals); Ten Painters of LA, 1919; LACMA, 1919 (solo); AIC, 1920 (prize); Southwest Museum (LA), 1921 (prize); Paris Salon, 1923; NAD, 1929 (prize); GGIE, 1939; Calif. Art Club, 1947 (prize). In: NAD; NMAA; AIC; Orange Co. (CA) Museum; Irvine (CA) Museum; Chicago Museum; Indianapolis Museum; Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley); Pasadena Art Inst.; Pasadena Museum; Southwest Museum (LA); Springville (UT) Museum; Fleischer Museum (Scottsdale); Oakland Museum.

Source: Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"; Goldfield, “Edgar Payne” 1882-1947.