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Victor Clyde Forsythe 1885 - 1962

Victor Clyde Forsythe (Vic), was one of the first desert painters, along with friends Jimmy Swinnerton, Maynard Dixon and Nicolai Fechin.

Before his desert painting days though, Forsythe came to New York in 1904 to attend the Art Student League. While there he worked for the New York Journal with colleague Jimmy Swinnerton. After a brief stint at a St. Louis newspaper, he returned to Los Angeles, and worked for the "Examiner." After some success, Forsythe was recruited by newspaper publisher William Randolf Hearst to replace George Harriman as cartoonist for the New York American. It was at this time, during World War I, that he created many war posters, and he met young artist named Norman Rockwell. Forsythe was a mentor for Rockwell, and introduced him to the Saturday Evening Post.


Prior to Forsythe's birth in Orange, California, his parents ran a store in Tombstone, Arizona right next to the OK Corral.

Young Victor grew up with these stories, and had a fascination with exploring the canyons and mountains of the American deserts. As a boy in the 1890's, there was plenty of open space to roam about in Los Angeles, and his family would vacation in the California desert, great training for his desert painting days ahead. But before he joined the fraternity of desert painters, he had a successful cartoonist career in New York.

By 1920, Vic and his wife Cotta had it made in the New York newspaper world. They owned a yacht, socialized at golf tournaments, and lived high. Yet, at the apex of his success, the thirty-five year old gave it up to paint the desert. His friend Jimmy Swinnerton had already moved west for health reasons, and there was a growing fraternity of desert painters who had joined Swinnerton there, including Maynard Dixon, Ed Borein, Charles Russell, and Nicolai Fechin. He was also a friend of a great fan of desert painters, humorist Will Rogers. When the Saturday Evening Post did a story of Will Roger's life, they picked Clyde Forsythe's painting of Will and his favorite horse, Soapsuds.


When Vic came to the desert, he not only painted, but roamed and explored. He sat at prospector's camp fires, listened to their tall tales. He lived in ghost towns amid "their crumbling walls and vanished glory." The desert for Forsythe was not just a visual experience, he became part of the desert.

On some of his desert painting excursions, he would take a younger artist, a newer member of the fraternity of desert painters, John W. Hilton. Hilton recalled Forsythe's dry acerbic wit, and how he had insulting nicknames for his friends ... the more insulting, the better the friendship. Forsythe once said of John Hilton, "You're thirteenth on my list of fellas I can do without." Yet Forsythe would seek Hilton out for desert camping and painting trips.


On the occasion of Vic and Cotta's Golden Wedding anniversary, Hilton writes that the fraternity repaid Forsythe with a roast filled with affectionate insults. Ed Ainsworth writes of the occasion, "nobody dared get sentimental ... all the guests heartily insulted Vic to the best of their ability, although all fell far short of Vic's own superlative talents in that line."

Hilton writes about Forsythe's technique. "Clyde had a theory which he called 'dynamic symmetry'. He would use a series of carefully calculated triangles drawn in charcoal, and before he started to paint, his canvas would look like a modern impressionistic drawing." These trips allowed Hilton to sharpen his ideas of balance and harmony.

Ed Ainsworth recalls Forsythe speaking of the desert painters. " 'We were kind of pioneers,' Clyde confesses. 'Nobody thought the California desert was worth much of anything. People were scared of the heat and the snakes. They never thought of the desert as a place of beauty.' " Ainsworth goes on to write that because of the desert painters, the deserts of the Southwest began to attract national attention.


Sources: Ed Ainsworth, Painters of the Desert, 1960., Katherine Ainsworth, The Man Who Captured Sunshine, 1978.

Available for Purchase
Deserted, 1946


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