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Ernest Martin Hennings (1886-1956)
signed 'E. Martin Hennings' (lower left), titled (on the backing)
oil on canvas
30 x 36in
framed 35 1/2 x 41 1/2in
Private collection, Taos, New Mexico, from the above, circa 1930s.
Private collection, Dallas, Texas, by family descent.
The paintings of E. Martin Hennings are glowing tapestries that celebrate the pageantry and beauty of the people in landscape of Northern New Mexico. In them the land itself – the canyons, mountains, streams, and forests – suggests the color and romance of a Renaissance weaving. Against this richly-hued background, the Indian people of the Taos Pueblo, the Spanish-American people of the neighboring mountain villages, and the Anglos living and working in New Mexico are the protagonists of a historic tableau. 1
Hennings looked upon the rivers, forests and high desert of Taos and the people of the Pueblo and villages as an endless source of artistic inspiration, a treasure of visual pleasures. He wrote: "Landscape plays so important a part of my work, and subjects of sage, mountain and sky. Nothing thrills me more when in the fall, the aspen and cottonwoods are in color and with the sunlight playing against them – all the poetry and drama, all the moves and changes of nature are there to inspire one to greater accomplishment from year to year." 2
Although Hennings was successful in landscape, genre and portrait painting, he felt his strength lay in figure painting: "In figure subjects I believe I find my greatest inspiration - Subjects which I have grown to know from experience and which the imagination brings forth." He painted the men, women, and children of all three cultures of New Mexico, but the Indians of the Taos Pueblo were the heroic figures of his finest paintings. Not a naturalist, anthropologist, or ethnologist, he did not try to record for posterity the religious ceremonies or the daily rituals of the Indians of the Pueblo but painted life in northern New Mexico as a visual spectacle and the Indian people as figures of beauty, serenity and majesty. Although he was attracted by their colorful ceremonies and costumes, he did not look upon them as exotic or purely decorative figures. He portrayed them as introspective, dignified individuals, regal in demeanor and bearing, with a suggestion of stoicism and sadness as they faced an uncertain future. He often chose as his subject, groups of blanketed Indians passing through the woods on horseback. These lines of riders suggest the eternal procession of life in New Mexico - a procession in which the Taos Indians have participated for centuries. 3
Hennings' most successful canvases are those in which he interwove the threads of landscape and figure forms. His special talent lay in his ability to integrate human figures and natural forms into a single aesthetic creation. 4
Hunters in the Canyon is a classic example of Henning's interpretation of the Indians of Taos and their way of life. The possession of hunters quietly walks their horses through a grove of aspens, not sure what their day will bring. There is a silence to the scene, as the artist conveys his reverence for the hunters and their poise and pride. The composition is indeed, as described by Patricia Janis Broder, a glowing tapestry.
1 P.J. Broder, Taos: A Painter's Dream, New York, 1980, p. 253.
4 Ibid, p. 256.