Edgar Alwin Payne was born in Washburn, Missouri among the Ozark Mountains, an area that instilled in him a love for the wilderness that remained with him throughout his life. Payne left home at age 14 and found work painting houses, stage sets and signs. A landscape painter and muralist, Payne was a member of the Alumni Association of the Art Institute of Chicago and became a member of the Chicago Society of Artists, although he considered himself to be a self-taught artist.
In 1911, a sketching trip took him west to Laguna Beach, California. The following year he married artist Elsie Palmer, and in 1917, the Santa Fe Railroad commissioned him to paint the Southwest. In 1918 the couple established a home and studio in Laguna Beach where Payne organized and became the first president of the Laguna Beach Art Association. In the 1920’s, Payne traveled extensively throughout Europe, where he won an honorable mention in the 1923 Paris Salon. After his return to California, he wrote a successful book on landscape painting and made a movie about the Sierras. During this time, he began what is considered his most famous body of work, painting the California Sierras. Indeed, Payne spent so much time sketching and painting in the Sierras that a lake was named after him.
Although Payne traveled all over the country on painting expeditions, including the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona and New Mexico, California remained his home until he died. Although most known for his paintings of the Sierras, Payne’s talent enabled him to project the vastness of the Southwest, recording the silence of the weather-shaped monuments and magnifying their immensity by comparing them to man.
His works are held by collections nationwide, including the Nebraska Art Association, the Chicago Municipal Art Commission, the Anschutz Collection, the Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, the National Museum of American Art in Washington D.C. and the National Academy of Design in New York. He was a member of the Salmagundi Club in New York and the California Art Club. Known also as a muralist, Payne’s murals can still be found today in theaters and public buildings throughout the nation.
Payne is internationally renowned for his depictions of the High Sierras, Indians riding through desert canyons, landscapes of the Sierra Nevada and French and Italian boats scenes as well as authoring a book titled Composition of Outdoor Painting, which is now in its fifth printing and used by artists, teachers and collectors around the world. He died in Hollywood in April 1947. Although he and his wife had separated in 1932, Elsie returned to live with him towards the end of his life when he was ill.