German- American artists, Ufer and Hennings were life long friends. Both were among the hundreds of foreign students who attended Munich art academies between 1910 and 1915. They first met in Chicago as aspiring young painters. After Munich, they established their careers in New Mexico.
When Chicago and New York critics first saw the works of the Taos artists, they criticized them as being unrealistic and overly exaggerated. They were not aware of what the light and landscape were like in northern New Mexico with its vivid colors, brilliant blue sky, earthen adobe architecture and Pueblo and Hispanic cultures.
Their Audience by Ufer (1919) is the first painting that grabbed my attention when we went into the gallery. Ufer painted in the alla prima style. Wet-on-wet or alla prima (Italian, meaning at first attempt) is a painting technique in which layers of wet paint are applied to previously administered layers of wet paint. This technique forces the artist to work quickly. It is interesting that Ufer did not make any sketches of his models first but rather put all his energy into the painting.
I love the bold colors, the floral borders on the rebozas (shawls) and the gorgeous sky.
Announcements by Hennings (1924). He carefully planned his works by making several sketches, orchestrating its composition, the placement of color, the lighting... Once completely designed, he goes to work on the canvas with his models. Hennings painted in a German version of Art Noveau called Jugendstil, a style of art that is inspired by natural forms and structures in flowers, plants, trees and curved lines. Great bold colors against the late afternoon shadows on the mountain behind the men. Hennings probably painted this as a response to the government's attempt to take over the Pueblo people's land and outlaw their ceremonies.
Her Daughter by Ufer (1917). A portrait of the two women and the landscape shows great detail in their dress, the landscape and particularly the designs on the pots that the women carry on their heads, a bold statement that Ufer recognizes the pottery as works of art. This is one of my favorites of his.
Going East by Ufer (1917). This is one of the most important pieces that Ufer painted of a group of people making their annual pilgrimage to the sacred Blue Lake. The sky is spectacular. That afternoon lighting with the shadows really emphasizes a forward movement, a group on a mission to their pilgrimage. Congress had just announced that they were declaring war on Germany. This pilgrimage is symbolic of the US troops heading east to Europe. In 1918, he later wrote, "Art is dead in Taos this year. Nobody doing much. War is in the air." Not only did the war effect his work, the Spanish Flu reached Taos that summer.
Luzanna and Her Sisters by Ufer (1920). Being a plein air painter, this interior scene is very unusual. Young sisters sitting in and around the window with a view through the window of the landscape with a wagon and horse. Also, the wallpaper is very uncharacteristic of the area. It's like looking through a peep hole into the life of these young girls.
The Fiddler of Taos by Ufer (1921). This fiddler with the one leg was well known to the Taos community. The bold sky sets off the grim face of the fiddler as the two children peer over the wall.
Luncheon at Lone Locust by Ufer (1923). He won his second Altman prize for this painting. Interesting texture on the adobe wall with the shadows of the pergola.
The Goat Herder by Hennings - 1925-1927. The shapes of the goats are complimented by the rolling mountains behind them as the sheep herder looks on. There is a certain softness and serenity to this scene.
Mexican Sheepherder by Hennings - 1925. Magnificent use of back lighting with this large stature of a man with his shotgun cradled in his right arm. His direct gaze seems to draw the viewer right into the painting.
The Rendezvous by Hennings - 1925. Interesting on how the gnarly trees, nature, supersedes the Indian motif. This particular painting reminds me of Ernest L Blumenschein's painting, Landscape with Indian Camp - 1920. Both painting where the trees dominated the scene.
Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings in Paris, 1913.
It is interesting that in this photo to see the woman in the background between the two men is dressed in a corseted outfit where the woman walking towards the men on Ufer's side is dressed in a loose fitting suit, an influence by Coco Chanel. A sign of the times, things were changing. Chanel was credited for liberating women from the constraints of the corseted silhouette and popularizing a sporty, casual chic attire.
A Place Under the Sun is a magnificent exhibition!
A Place Under the Sun
Denver Art Museum
The exhibition ends on April 24, 2016.