Following training at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore and the Royal Academy in Munich, William Robinson Leigh settled in New York in 1896, where he began his career as an an illustrator for Scribner’s and Collier’s Weekly. In 1906, at the age of 40, he achieved his life-long dream of traveling west when he was awarded a free ticket on the Santa Fe Railroad in exchange for painting a scene of the Grand Canyon. While on this journey, he visited the villages of the Acoma and Zuni Indians and met contemporary painter Joseph Henry Sharp in Taos, New Mexico before ultimately reaching the Grand Canyon. Albeit a short adventure, it was a profound experience that had an enduring effect on his life. His field of vision became solidly entrenched in the American frontier and it was a commitment that would bring him back more than twenty-five times after that first enchanting encounter.
Leigh found popular success with his animated depictions of the vivid landscape and thrilling energy of western life. Parting Pals is an exciting glimpse of a cowboy tossed backwards from his bucking steed. The spasms of the horse’s legs as it clenches at its bit and the cowboy’s stirrups flying mid-air give the painting a palpable sense of energy. Leigh’s mastery of theatrical dynamism through a single image, which he perfected early in his illustration career, is fully displayed in the present work. Parting Pals showcases his capacity for dramatic story-telling and his ability to capture the unique charm of life in the American West.