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Donald Mattison (American 1905 – 1975)

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

Arizona Landscape, 1935, oil on canvas, 24 ½ x 19 ½ inches, unsigned, exhibited at the Twenty-Eighth Indiana Artists Exhibition at the John Herron Art Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1935 (label verso). Referenced in New Indiana Art Trend Shown by Canvases at State Exhibit, The Indianapolis News, March 18, 1935; City Association First to Sponsor Project in State, Palladium Item (Richmond, Indiana), April 6, 1935; and Several Visits Necessary For Full Appreciation of Exhibit, Palladium Item (Richmond, Indiana), April 13, 1935 and The Richmond Item, April 14, 1935


About the Painting

Arizona Landscape is an excellent example of mid-1930s American Scene painting which depicts the plight of labor during the Great Depression. We see heads-down, hunched-backed workers trudging to their morning shifts in an Arizona mining town against the background of a rising sun obscured by a brewing storm. Although the exact location is not known, the subject may be the copper mines in and around Bisbee. We know this is not the first morning these workers have made this trip to the mine and they will make many more trips like this one in the days, months and years to come, if the mine can manage to stay open and they can survive the dangers of their work. One critic reviewing the Herron Art Museum exhibition, cited Arizona Landscape as representing a growing trend towards the depiction of “industrial scenes.” Another praised Mattison for his rendering of “the pale yellow light of morning and the dark shadows, giving an unusual effect, strikingly rendered.” When Mattison painted this work, he was at the beginning of the most important period of his career. Another of Mattison’s paintings won the Art Association Prize at the same Herron Art Museum show where Arizona Landscape was exhibited and over the following ten years his works were exhibited at some of the country’s most important venues for American art, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and the Golden Gate International Exposition.

About the Artist

Donald Mattison was an Indiana painter and educator. He studied at the Yale School of Fine Arts and at the American Academy in Rome, where he won a Prix de Rome. He served as an instructor and director of the Herron Art School (Indianapolis) from the mid-1930s to 1970. Mattison exhibited widely during his long career and completed commissions for the WPA. His works are in the collections of several institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University Art Gallery and the Indianapolis Museum of Art (now Newfields). Mattison is listed in Who was Who in American Art and other standard references.


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