In 1912, Audley Dean Nicols was a successful magazine illustrator, a popular citizen of a Pittsburgh suburb. Then, he heard “a call in the desert.” Following that call changed the course of his life and the art of the Desert Southwest.
The brilliant light of the desert and its austere beauty “was a revelation to Pittsburgh eyes,” Nicols wrote. In meticulous, vivid canvases he became devoted to conveying that revelation. His paintings pioneered a distinctive style of photographic realism in desert landscape painting and sparked a new interest in Southwestern art.
In the 1920s, Audley Dean Nicols’ desert landscapes hung in well-to-do homes across the country—even, purportedly, in the White House. After his death in 1941, the artist and his art faded from public view.
This new book, presenting the largest assemblage of Nicols’ work so far gathered in one place, along with a documented biography, brings this remarkable artist back into the light.
In the early 20th century, the only color photographs available were black and white photos that were hand tinted. But the hues weren’t true to life. Nicols’ paintings, with their photographic detail and vivid colors, revealed the true splendor of the Desert Southwest.
Poncho Villa once rode his horse up the staircase of the opulent Gadsden Hotel (on the right) in the heart of Douglas, AZ. At the top of that staircase, Nicols painted a 6 x 7-foot canvas, Cave Creek Canyon— Chiricahua Mountains. It’s still there today.
As a child, Nicols contracted a form of TB that left him with a pronounced limp and delicate health. Yet he ventured into the Arizona desert, far from human settlement, for weeks at a time, sketching and painting the landscape that entranced him.
Collecting the Works of Audley Dean Nicols
Anchoring Everything but Gray is Thomas Duke’s collection of 18 of Nicols’ best desert landscapes. Other collectors, galleries, and museums generously granted permission to reproduce canvases in their possession. Browse the gallery to see a few of the spectacular paintings included.