Walter Ufer (American, 1876-1936) Indian Entertainer 30 x 25in (overall: 33 x 28 1/2in)

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Lot 105
Walter Ufer
(American, 1876-1936)
Indian Entertainer 30 x 25in

Sold for US$ 1,025,000 inc. premium
Walter Ufer (American, 1876-1936)
Indian Entertainer
signed 'W Ufer' (lower right) and signed and titled '"An Entertainer" by W Ufer' (on the stretcher bar)
oil on canvas
30 x 25in
overall: 33 x 28 1/2in


  • Property sold to benefit the Museum of Art, Washington State University.

    Collection of the artist
    Collection of Dr. Ernest O. Holland. on behalf of the Museum of Art, Washington State University, acquired from the above (1926-1929).

    Oklahoma City, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Walter Ufer: Rise, Rall, Ressurection, February 7 – May 11, 2014.

    National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Walter Ufer: Rise, Fall, Resurrection, Oklahoma City, 2014, p. 82, pl. 61, illus. in color.

    Born in Huckeswagen, Germany in 1876, and raised by immigrant parents in Louisville Kentucky, Walter Ufer was a notable draftsman and colorist. He is celebrated for his spirited depictions of the American West. During his formative years Ufer apprenticed as a lithographer, only deciding on painting as a profession after visiting the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Thereafter he traveled to Germany to study academic realism, training in Hamburg and the Royal Academy in Dresden. Returning stateside in 1900, he worked as an illustrator, printer, portrait painter, and taught art classes in Chicago, but within a year relocated to Munich in 1911 to further his artistic endeavors. In 1914 Ufer once again found himself in Chicago attracting notice from the city's mayor, Carter Harrison, for his artistic talents. The mayor awarded Ufer with a subsidized trip to Taos, New Mexico. By 1917 Ufer had settled permanently in Taos where he remained for the rest of his life.

    Harrison, five-time Mayor of Chicago, commented on the artist's representations of Native Americans stating, "The man who makes himself the Millet of the Indian, who paints him just as he is, as he lives, will strike the lasting note" (pg. 29). Indian Entertainer depicts Ufer's longtime friend and model, Jim Mirabel. Jim was Ufer's model for over twenty years and remained a loyal companion, partly due to Ufer's sympathetic and moral stance concerning the social oppression of the Native Americans. Historically, European-trained artists would portray Native Americans in a purely romanticized light, further perpetuating the concept of "The Noble Savage." Ufer broke with tradition, depicting Southwestern Native Americans engaged in daily activities. In the forward to an exhibition of recent paintings in 1928 Ufer wrote: "I Paint the Indian as he is. In the garden digging – In the field working – Riding amongst the sage – Meeting his women in the desert – Angling for trout – In meditation." While on the surface this is a simplistic approach the work is subversive in its forthrightness. Ufer is unapologetic and refrains from pseudo anthropological accuracy.

    Beginning in the 1920s, Walter Ufer painted Jim in a series of portraits playing various musical instruments, such as drums and flutes. By 1926, Ufer was at the height of his fame. Following a number of one man shows and prestigious prizes, he was elected an Academician by the National Academy of Design. Indian Entertainer was executed the same year. Ufer seldom painted images of ceremonial dances or ritual contexts, preferring to represent the material objects of the Pueblo Indians as extensions of their cultural traditions.

    In Indian Entertainer Ufer paints Jim Mirabel in an intimate, honest and authentic setting. Ufer trades his bright blue desert sky for a densely painted Pueblo Moki woven blanket as a graphic backdrop. The subject is presented as strong and uncompromised. Yet, Jim is painted in a realistic and modest manner with his gaze focused on the viewer. Ufer draws us to the yellow and red paint decorated small skin drum in Jim's hand occupying the central portion of the canvas. The drum's triangle design is on a vertical axis contrasted with the horizontal design of the blanket. Jim's store-bought shirt and pants and the simple blanket wrapped around his waist are juxtaposed with the large teal and white Pueblo drum in the lower right corner and the impressively dense Pueblo Moki. The artist replicated the folds of Jim's shirt and the threaded weave of the blanket with striations of color and distinct brushwork. Mixing blue pigment with turpentine, the artist could present a seamless transition from light to shadow, producing a tonal quality of natural light. Indian Entertainer records a transitional moment in the history of the American West, all the more powerful for its lack of pretense.

    Ufer died at the age of sixty from an appendicitis. While his popularity has waxed and waned, his importance was acknowledged immediately and his passing lamented. The great American modernist Stuart Davis wrote a posthumous tribute in the New York Times in 1936. "We honor the memory of a man whose spirit was a living expression of that unflinching honesty and integrity which alone can assure the progress of art in America hand in hand with the other forces on which the hope of freedom of expression and a higher culture in America depend."

    Dr. Dean A. Porter, Walter Ufer: Rise, Fall, Resurrection.

Saleroom notices

  • Dimensions should read: 30 x 25in
Walter Ufer (American, 1876-1936) Indian Entertainer 30 x 25in (overall: 33 x 28 1/2in)
Walter Ufer (American, 1876-1936) Indian Entertainer 30 x 25in (overall: 33 x 28 1/2in)
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