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Ernest Blumenschein


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Taos Society of Artists founder Ernest Blumenschein was a colorful and controversial figure whose character was marked by fierce determination.  A supporter of Post-Impressionism, Blumenschein’s own style is marked by the use of deep, rich colors and a strict sense of spatial geometry and rhythm.  Possibly the most complex and least understood member of the Taos Society, Blumenschein’s southwestern pictures were born of the artist’s interest in formal integrity and harmony rather than a desire to accurately portray pueblo culture.

"...the name of Taos has come to mean a definite achievement in American art, which promises to have a long and honorable career before its artistic possibilities are exhausted. A peculiar combination of the great open country relatively easy of access and a long season of painting weather and clear sunlight, under which the landscape as well as human beings assume definite contrast of light and shadow, has made Taos a focal point in American art life. The Indian at Taos, furthermore, has survived without much loss of his original characteristics, and his genuine qualities are not the least element in attracting artists to the Southwest."[63]

Ernest Leonard Blumenschein 1874-1960, an artist, was a charter member of the Taos Society of Artists and part of the Taos art colony which from 1898 was an important part of the life of Taos, New Mexico.....Blumenschein was far and away the most well known of the Taos painters during his lifetime. His painstakingly executed canvases, in his distinctive style that was first called “post-impressionist” and later modernist, garnered him a wide and appreciative audience, and numerous awards. Ernest Blumenschein paintings today are held by the most important museum collections in the United States.He became one of the Southwest's best-known painters of pueblo Indian genre.

Blumenschein was far and away the most well known of the Taos painters during his lifetime. His painstakingly executed canvases, in his distinctive style that was first called “post-impressionist” and later modernist, garnered him a wide and appreciative audience, and numerous awards. Ernest Blumenschein paintings today are held by the most important museum collections in the United States.

Blumenschein made his first trip in 1892 to study at the Academie Julian in Paris, where he worked at academic figure painting. While in Paris, he met some other future Taos painters: Bert Phillips, E.I. Couse, and most notably, Joseph Henry Sharp. It was Sharp who would inspire the other three with his stories and sketches of Arizona and New Mexico. Ernest Blumenschein determined that he would visit the Southwest as soon as the opportunity arose. Blumenschein urged Bert Phillips to save enough money to join him, and 1898 they set out by covered wagon. Crossing into northern New Mexico in early September, they encountered roads that had been all but destroyed by summer storms. After fighting their way up one particularly steep and muddy road, one of the wagon wheels broke. They needed a blacksmith, and the nearest town was Taos. After a coin toss, Phillips stayed with the crippled wagon, and Ernest Blumenschein set out on horseback with the wagon wheel. His feelings as he rode alone through the New Mexico landscape are best told in his own words: “ No artist had ever recorded the New Mexico I was now seeing. No writer had ever written down the smell of this air or the feel of that morning’s sky. I was receiving…the first great unforgettable inspiration of my life.” He was 24 years old at the time.

Ernest Blumenschein remained in Taos, though at one point he began to spend winters in Albuquerque, where it was not quite as cold. Even when he was eighty years old, he still labored as diligently over his canvases as he ever had. When he died in 1960, he was the most famous resident of Taos, and six years later the Ernest L. Blumenschein home was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Today, Blumenschein’s work is held by the most prestigious museums in the country, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Metropolitan, and the Smithsonian Institution. Ernest Blumenschein once said that he considered his greatest artistic heroes to be Shakespeare, Michelangelo, El Greco, Beethoven, and Bach. It is fitting that he too became preeminent among artists in his lifetime and has gone down as one of the most important painter’s in American art history

The Taos Society of Artists.... Late in the nineteenth century, the tiny New Mexican community of Taos became a mecca for American artists who sought to develop a uniquely American type of art. They believed that their inspiration was to be found in the West, a region they considered uniquely American. For them, as for many other artists before them, subject matter was more important than style or technique.

The Society was active from 1912 through 1927, and held annual art exhibitions in Taos and other cities in the United States. Charter members of the Society included Bert G. Phillips, Victor Higgins, Joseph H. Sharp, Oscar E. Berninghaus, E. Irving Couse, Herbert Dunton and Ernest L. Blumenschein. Walter Ufer, Kenneth M. Adams, Catherine Critcher, and E. Martin Hennings joined later.

These artists did not reject the traditional academic training that many of them had received in Europe. In fact, stylistically the Taos Society blazed few new trails in the development of American art. The romantic realism of their work reveals a stronger desire to be visually informative than to be aesthetically daring.

A unique characteristic of the Taos Society of Artists was the attitude of its members toward the traditional Hispanic and Native American inhabitants of the Southwest. In their depictions of Native Americans, for example, these artists did not have a moralizing approach, and rejected both the tendencies of the earlier explorer-artists to treat them as scientific specimens, and the simplistic, adversarial role that other artists later forced on Native Americans. Instead, in their art the viewer finds peaceful and sympathetic portrayals, occasionally idealized but never to the point of caricature. These provided interpretations of individual personalities, illustrations of complex and rich ceremony, and the steady calm of daily pursuits.

Although they had not found the last outpost of Native American and Hispanic life untouched by Anglo civilization, these artists had found and were able to form relationships with cultures that were unusually successful in preserving their traditions in the face of enormous change, and who lived accordingly. This context imbued the work of the Taos Society with a rich, subtle, and very human texture

The painting that artist Ernest L. Blumenschein believed to be his masterpiece was Jury for Trial of a Sheepherder for Murder