Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Illustrators of early frontier fiction, Maynard Dixon, cont.

Magazine cover, 1904, Maynard Dixon
Last week I blogged one day about the artist Maynard Dixon, with examples of his book illustration for several novels. Today I have gathered some of his illustrations for the western novels of another writer, Clarence E. Mulford (1883–1956), best known as the originator of the character Hopalong Cassidy.

Cassidy had already been portrayed by another illustrator, Frank Schoonover for a story, “The Fight at Buckskin,” first published in the December 1905 issue of Outing Magazine and later appearing as the opening chapter of Mulford’s Bar-20 (1907).

The bunch of Texas cowboys at the Bar-20 comprised the dramatis personae of a series of Mulford novels, following the example of B. M. Bower, who had her own set of recurring characters from a Montana ranch, the Flying U.

Schoonover, who had travelled in the West specifically to soak up cowboy local color for his painting, gives Hopalong what seems to be an authentic lived-in costume, with full mustache and a beat-up hat. See here.

Dixon is more interested in the romance of his subject matter, using visual composition, light, shadow, and movement to capture moments of drama and mystery. Some scenes take place in the half-light of dusk or a night sky. Guns are often drawn or are being fired. 

A man on a horse is observed from the top of a high bluff by another rider holding a rifle. A woman walks cautiously toward a fallen cowboy, lying near a downed horse, while around them the desert is alive with blooming flowers. (Notice the horizon line near the top of the picture and the placement of the man near the bottom, as if he is about to slip off the page altogether.) Horses themselves often display the charge of energy and excitement that quickens a scene.

For the customer in a turn-of-the-century bookstore, these illustrations must have done much to appeal to curiosity, the imagination, and the pocketbook. I would surely like my westerns to come illustrated like this today.

Bar-20 Days (1911)

Buck Peters, Ranchman (1912)

The Coming of Cassidy (1913)

Shamelsss plug: For an in-depth survey of early writers of frontier fiction, read How the West Was Written (to obtain a copy, click here).

Image credits: 
Wikimedia Commons
Google books

Coming up: Francis Lynde, Empire Builders (1907)


  1. Thanks for this. I downloaded a free ebook copy of the Bar-20 stories years ago but no illustrations, of course. These go nicely.

  2. If they did that today, it would probably put the book out of range price-wise. Great illustrations.

  3. Maynard Dixon's work is just wonderful and for the first time in 75 years I have an interest in reading one of Mr. Mulford's Cassidy story's.

    1. Dixon really brought those stories vividly to life.

  4. His later paintings, which sometimes appear on Antiques Roadshow, are mostly of desert and mountain scenery with the sky dominating, with seldom any figures in the paintings, or very small , dominated by land and sky. His depictions of people have so much energy. Perhaps he considered these as only commercial art, and the others as serious art.

    1. I think your last statement is probably close to the mark. I've read that he had a special affection for the Four Corners area and would spend long periods of time there to soak up inspiration for his painting.

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