Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (1874-1952) San Antonio Chapel, Taos 25 x 30in (Painted circa 1924.)

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Lot 27
Oscar Edmund Berninghaus
(1874-1952)
San Antonio Chapel, Taos 25 x 30in

Sold for US$ 100,000 inc. premium
Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (1874-1952)
San Antonio Chapel, Taos
signed 'O.E. Berninghaus' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 x 30in
Painted circa 1924.

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    The artist.
    Mary Catherine Howard, Taos, New Mexico, cousin of the artist's wife.
    Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1980.
    Jim Fowler's Period Gallery West, Scottsdale, Arizona, 1983.
    Acquired by the late owner from the above, 1984.

    Literature
    G.E. Sanders, O.E. Berninghaus: Master Painter of American Indians and The Frontier West, Taos, New Mexico, 1985, p. 132.
    S.H. McGarry, Honoring The Western Tradition: The L.D. "Brink" Brinkman Collection, Kerrville, Texas, 2003, p. 62, illustrated.

    This work will be included in the Kodner Gallery Research Project on the artist Oscar Edmund Berninghaus 1874-1952.

    In 1899, Oscar Berninghaus accepted a sketching commission from the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad to travel by train through Colorado and New Mexico. Along this journey, he learned of a mountainside village in northern New Mexico near an historic Pueblo settlement and became one of the first artists to visit Taos. He recalled of that first trip, "I stayed here but a week, became infected with the Taos germ and promised myself a longer stay the following year."1 Indeed Berninghaus would come to live much of his life in Taos, where he found the greatest source of inspiration for his work, spending more time annually until 1925, when he settled there permanently. In San Antonio Chapel, Taos, Berninghaus captures the distinct atmosphere of the village during the winter through his adept Impressionistic technique.

    Berninghaus was a key figure in the artists' colony of Taos. In 1915, he became one of the founders of the Taos Society of Artists, among the original group of artists known as the Taos Six—alongside Joseph Henry Sharp, Eanger Irving Couse, William Herbert "Buck" Dunton, Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Geer Phillips. Their aims were to organize exhibitions, encourage the sale of their work and promote America's own native art. Berninghaus wrote of the significance of their movement, "I think the colony in Taos is doing much for American art. From it I think will come a distinctive art, something definitely American—and I do not mean that such will be the case because the American Indian and his environment are the subjects. But the canvases that come from Taos are definitely as American as anything can be. We have had French, Dutch, Italian, German art. Now we must have American art. I feel that from Taos will come that art."2

    Unlike other members of the Taos school who had formal academic training at top institutions and studied abroad, Berninghaus was mostly self-taught. He was raised in St. Louis, Missouri and since his childhood, drawing was a favorite pastime. His career began as a lithographer, which instilled a high degree of precision to his draftsmanship that remained a foundation in his work. Years working in commercial illustration further practiced his innate sense of design and composition. It was in New Mexico where Berninghaus discovered and perfected his work in the oil medium, and where he painted free of the restrictions of commercial commissions.

    Berninghaus' style of painting, as seen in the present work, reflected that of the Impressionists, trying to capture transient lighting effects through the use of vibrant hues and broken, textured brushwork. Whereas some artists in the Taos colony devoted their canvases to subjects under the intense desert sunshine of the afternoon, Berninghaus closely studied the changing colors and atmospheric quality of the landscape in various seasons and times of day. San Antonio Chapel, Taos appears to be a winter scene as snow envelops the foreground and is dappled on the distant hilltops. The chapel possibly depicted is located in La Loma Plaza and was built by Spanish settlers in the mid-Nineteenth Century. The warm tones of the adobe structures, dirt road, and bark of the tree contrast against the cool tones of the hills and crisp blue sky. Varying brushstrokes and levels of impasto create distinct textures throughout, from the wispy, bare tree branches to heavily laid snow.

    Berninghaus found a wealth of subjects and artistic inspiration in Taos. San Antonio Chapel, Taos exhibits the artist's keen ability to convey the impression he felt of this unique place during a cold, wintry moment. The present work serves as a prime example of the artist's belief that, "The painter must first see his picture as paint—as color—as form—and not as a landscape or figure. He must see with an inner eye, then paint with feeling, not with seeing."3

    1 P.J. Broder, Taos: A Painter's Dream, New York, 1980, p. 119.
    2 Ibid, p. 122.
    3 Ibid, p. 126.
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