Riders in the foothills signed 'E. Martin Hennings' (lower right) oil on canvas 30 x 30in
Provenance: Collection of Rex Bell and Clara Bow Thence by descent to the present owner
Ernest Martin Hennings was born in New Jersey but spent most of his youth in Chicago. He studied at the Art Institute before traveling to Munich to continue his education. Although the onset of World War I brought his studies to an abrupt end, he did absorb the ideas and techniques of Academic Realism as well as the Art Nouveau movement. In 1917, while working back in Chicago, Hennings was sponsored to a painting trip in New Mexico. Art patron and former Chicago mayor Carter Harrison and his partner Oscar Meyer were part of an art-buying syndicate who had already successfully sponsored two other artists in New Mexico, Victor Higgins and Walter Ufer. Hennings was easily convinced as he knew both men from their time together in Munich. Upon his arrival in New Mexico, Hennings was taken by the scenic beauty of New Mexico as well as the rich cultural community of the Native Americans that lived there. He settled in Taos permanently in 1921 and later joined the Taos Society of artists in 1924.
Hennings is best known for his paintings that interweave landscape and figures in harmonious compositions. These works skillfully portray the beauty of life in New Mexico. In Riders in the foothills, Hennings displays his ability to combine landscape and figural elements to create a calm and rhythmic composition. The gentle diagonal line of riders that moves from the lower right to the upper left influences this rhythm. The vibrant red mounted figure in the foreground catches the viewer's eye and is echoed in the farthest figure. Through the repetition of these figures they become part of the larger pattern within the brush. Hennings renders the riders and the landscape as interdependent elements. The slow moving line of riders suggests the continuity of a culture and landscape unchanging.