Victor Higgins

(1884 - 1949)

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Victor Higgins was perhaps the most stylistically flexible and experimental member of the Taos Society.  During his lengthy and prolific career he worked in a variety of stylistic idioms, from his early Impressionist works to the later Cubist landscapes.  From the time of his first visit to Taos in 1914, Higgins’ work reflects an interest in the relationship between geometric forms as a means of conveying space and constructing composition.  Characterized by scholars as a gentleman who painted in a three-piece suit, Higgins was an intellectual and a businessman whose work reflects a consuming interest in the creation of a distinctly American art. 

Born in Shelbyville, Indiana, on June 28, 1884, Victor Higgins grew up on a small midwestern farm.  His interest in art was sparked by a traveling sign painter who informed the young Higgins of the newly opened Chicago Art Institute.  At the age of fifteen he left home for Chicago, where he studied for the next ten years at the Art Institute and the Chicago Academy of Fine Art.  After a brief trip to California, Higgins traveled to New York in 1911 where he met Robert Henri and George Bellows, members of the “Ashcan School” which advocated painting from experience for an honest representation of everyday American life. That same year, Higgins left for Europe, spending time in England and Paris, as well as Munich, where he worked with Martin Hennings and Walter Ufer.  He returned to Chicago in 1913, in time to view the breakthrough Armory show which had traveled from New York in a reduced format.  As it traced the development of modernism from Manet to Picasso, the Armory show introduced Higgins to the work of leading European and American modernists, including John Marin, who was applying cubist principles to his paintings of  the American landscape. 

Prompted by Chicago Mayor and art patron Carter Harrison,  Higgins made his first visit to Taos in 1914, and established permanent residency the same year.  In Taos, the seemingly unchanged lifestyle of the Pueblo Indian provided a key subject, which Higgins used to express his belief in the dignity inherent in a lifestyle of modesty and self-reliance.  In 1915 Higgins received his first one-man show at the Old Palace in Santa Fe, and in 1917, he was invited to join the Taos Society along with Walter Ufer.  Although Higgins attended most meetings between his induction in 1917 and the time the Society disbanded in 1926, there is no evidence to suggest he was a particularly involved or enthusiastic participant.  By 1920, rather, Higgins had begun a slow separation from the Taos Society of Artists, spending more time with the progressive Andrew Dasburg and his student Kenneth Adams.  

After the Taos Society disbanded, Higgins increased his forays into cubist idioms.  When John Marin, a member of Alfred Stieglitz’s avant-garde circle in New York, arrived in Taos in 1929,  Higgins began to concentrate more fully on pattern and working primarily in watercolors.   While the extent of Marin’s influence on Higgins remains unclear, the increasingly abstract nature of his work in the late 1920s and 30s suggests a significant encounter with something new in American art, as well as a logical continuation of his natural tendency towards experimentation.