Ernest Martin Hennings (1886-1956) The Taos Twins 45 x 50in (Painted circa 1923.)

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Lot 19
Ernest Martin Hennings
(1886-1956)
The Taos Twins 45 x 50in

Sold for US$ 1,032,500 inc. premium
Ernest Martin Hennings (1886-1956)
The Taos Twins
signed 'E. Martin Hennings' (lower left)
oil on canvas
45 x 50in
Painted circa 1923.

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Sale, Texas Art Gallery, Dallas, Texas, March 21, 1985, lot 67.
    Acquired by the late owner from the above.

    Literature
    R.R. White, The Lithographs and Etchings of E. Martin Hennings, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1978, n.p., illustrated.
    S.H. McGarry, Honoring The Western Tradition: The L.D. "Brink" Brinkman Collection, Kerrville, Texas, 2003, p. 77, illustrated.

    Ernest Martin Hennings found his greatest sources of inspiration in the people and landscape of Taos, New Mexico. The primary goal of Hennings and his artistic contemporaries in Taos was to create distinctly American art and the unique blended cultures and geography of the Southwest offered striking subjects for their native art. The exceptional cultural heritage of the people of Taos enmeshed various groups, including the Puebloan Indians living in Taos Pueblo—one of the oldest continually inhabited settlements in North America—as well as generations of descendants of Spanish settlers, and the most recent Anglo settlers. The Taos Twins depicts the latter and, as found in Hennings most profound works, fuses both figural and landscape elements into a powerfully direct double-portrait. In the grand portrait of the twins depicted in the present work, Hennings utilized his adept skill as a draftsman from his impeccable academic training, combined with the Southwestern inspiration, to create an important example of Western American art.

    Hennings was raised in Chicago, Illinois and began his formal training there at the Art Institute, where he studied the Old Masters and drafting the anatomy of the figure. In 1912, his traditional studies of the European masters continued abroad at the National Academy in Munich, Germany, which was a popular choice for ambitious American artists at the turn of the 20th century. A chiaroscuro technique—composed of dark backgrounds contrasted against brightly lit subjects—was typical of the style learned in Munich. While Hennings' work was influenced by this style for his early period, his work later adapted and would significantly change in New Mexico. The strong sunlight and clarity of the arid climate inspired artists to brighten their compositions and add greater vibrancy to their palettes. The impact of the intense sunshine at 7,000 feet above sea level in Taos is evident in the present work, which Hennings painted at the height of his career and abilities. In conjunction with the shift to a more Impressionistic technique using vivid colors and lively brushwork, the basics in craftsmanship and accurate anatomical rendering learned in his early years remained of vital importance to the artist's work.

    After his training, Hennings worked as an illustrator to support himself financially like many artists of this period did, including fellow Western artists William Herbert "Buck" Dunton, John Clymer and Gerard Delano, among many others. Commercial illustration was a means to an end and not what Hennings most wanted. His chief desire was to work independently on exhibition-worthy paintings. In 1917, Hennings found patrons in business mogul Oscar Mayer and former Chicago mayor, Carter Harrison Jr., who had already been sponsoring Victor Higgins and Walter Ufer in Taos. With their financial support, Hennings intended to spend a month in Taos in the summer of 1917, but found such a wealth of inspiration on this first visit that he stayed for three months. He then spent time visiting other artist colonies across the country, but did not find the same creative stimulus. He settled in Taos in 1921 to devote his work to Southwestern subjects. Comments from the artist himself solidify that Taos had the most significant impact on his work and was the favored place for the well-traveled artist, who said, "...here in figure subjects, I believe I find my greatest inspiration."1 The Taos Twins is a significant example of this subject, executed when the artist was working at his peak of creativity.

    In the summer of 1923, Hennings met a pair of twins in their mid-60s, who have been identified as Jake (Jacob) and George Baumgartner. While in the present work they are dressed in modern clothing for the time, they appear as "old timers," a title Hennings assigned to another smaller portrait of the same sitters. More figuratively, the twins represent "venerable symbols of the great western migration."2 There is a rugged, stereotypical quality to the men, but the portraits are direct and authentic. Though we see the twins and their mules squinting in the sun, they do not appear particularly bothered by it and look relaxed, instilling them with a sense of strength and experience from years spent in the desert. Dramatic shadows are cast by the hats shielding their faces, which contrast against brilliant highlights on areas exposed to the sun. In a classic pyramidal composition, cool blue colors are echoed throughout the foreground and background, unifying the composition with an overarching design and harmoniously tying the figures into their natural landscape.

    Hennings spent about six weeks working with the twins as sitters, resulting in several paintings. Another comparable portrait entitled The Twins, 1923, depicts the men sitting in their wagon and is a key work in the collection of the Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana. Hennings was especially proud of The Twins, exhibiting it in major shows that year, when it also won the significant Martin B. Cahn Prize from the Art Institute of Chicago. Another small oil sketch from the same year entitled Baumgarten Twins, where they are set against an adobe wall, is in the collection of the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos.

    The Taos Twins is a superb portrait by Hennings of two men strikingly depicted in the luminous Southwestern landscape. According to Patricia Janis Broder, a scholar on the Taos school of artists, "Hennings' most successful canvases are those in which he interwove the threads of landscape and figure forms. His special talent lay in this ability to integrate human figures and natural forms into a single aesthetic creation... Portrait and landscape are fused into a harmonious whole that proclaims the beauty and vitality of life in Taos."3

    1 As quoted in K.B. McWhorter, A Place in the Sun: The Southwest Paintings of Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings, Norman, Oklahoma, 2016, p. 88.
    2 J.C. Moore, A Place in the Sun: The Southwest Paintings of Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings, Norman, Oklahoma, 2016, p. 157.
    3 P.J. Broder, Taos: A Painter's Dream, New York, 1980, p. 256.
Contacts
Ernest Martin Hennings (1886-1956) The Taos Twins 45 x 50in (Painted circa 1923.)
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