Acquiring the Masters:
Starting a Collection of Taos Founders
at any Price Range
by John O’Hern
Excerpt courtesy of Western Art Collector magazine
Joseph Henry Sharp, The Marigolds, Oil on Canvas, c. 1940, 25" x 30"
While the paintings by many of the Taos Society of Artists are selling at various auctions for hundreds of thousands of dollars, it doesn’t take an unlimited budget to start acquiring original works by these Western masters. In fact, many of the artists – like Joseph Sharp, Eanger Irving Couse, E. Martin Hennings, Gerald Cassidy and Ernest Blumenschein – did many small paintings as well. And these small works, masterpieces in their own right, are still available at galleries across the country and are well within the price range of even the moderate collector. Whatever the case, they provide for a great way to start a collection of Western masters.
Eanger Irving Couse, The Water Jug, Oil on Canvas, 20.25" x 24.25"
Eanger Irving Couse (1866-1936) was a founder of the Taos Society of Artists. He is known primarily for his portraits and scenes of Indians of the Taos Pueblo. He painted 22 works for the Santa Fe Railroad, which often put them on its annual calendar, making his work known to an audience of millions. Evening Peace is typical of his paintings of Indians. His fame, his sensitive treatment of his subjects, and his skill as a painter has priced his works beyond the reach of most new collectors. As with other artists of New Mexico and the Southwest, his more recognizable work commands the highest prices.
Couse also painted the landscape and architecture around Taos. His Ranchos de Taos Church is a small 8-by-10-inch oil of the famed church south of Taos, which is usually depicted from the west with its massive adobe buttresses. This view of the east front captures the luminous Taos light reflecting off the adobe and setting the church off against the clear blue sky. The painting is framed in what is often called a “Couse frame.”
Ernest Blumenschein, Las Tres Mujeres, Oil on Board, 9" x 12"
Oscar E. Berninghaus, In the Village of Lavacita, NM, Oil on Canvas Board, c. 1920, 16" x 20"
Joseph Sharp (1859-1953) was a prolific painter and he left behind a vast number of paintings. Although the rule is that rarity contributes to the value of an artist’s work, the relatively new interest in Sharp disproves the rule. He is known for his portraits and for their “ethnographic authenticity,” although he would sometimes dress Pueblo Indians in the garb of Plains Indians because they were close at hand.
Walter Ufer, Lone Rider, 12" x 16", Oil on Canvas
William Herbert Dunton, Delivering the Mail, Circa 1912-15, Oil on Canvas, 30" x 25"
Gerald Cassidy (1879-1934) died at the peak of his powers. He came to New Mexico to recover from pneumonia at a sanitarium in Albuquerque. The light, the people, and the places of the region caused him to decide to paint these subjects for the rest of his life. In 1934, however, he died of lead poisoning while painting a mural in Santa Fe. His small plein air painting Clouds over Desert Landscape is a fine example of how immediate and exciting these works can be.
Bert Geer Phillips, Mural Indian Sketch, Watercolor on Paper, 2" x 21"
The painters of the Taos Society often expressed their affinity for the people and the region in words as well as pictures. Ernest Blumenschein (1874-1960) wrote that he arrived in “Taos Village, green with trees and fields of alfalfa, populated by dark-skinned people who greeted me pleasantly. There I saw my first Taos Indians, picturesque, colorful, dressed in blankets artistically draped. New Mexico had gripped me…”
Victor Higgins, A Market Place in France, Oil on Canvas Board, c. 1912-13, 14" x 18"
Ernest Blumenschein, perhaps more than any of the Society members, was intrigued by and adopted the ideas of Modernism, which had begun to show its influence between 1890 and 1910. His paintings are characterized by essential shapes, complex compositions, and bright, subjective color. In Las Tres Mujeres, for instance, the figures are nearly two dimensional, and the space between them and the building is compressed.
Ernest Martin Hennings, Towering Pine, Circa 1915, Oil on Canvas, 25" x 30"
Many of the small works available are plein air paintings painted, literally, “in the open air.” In another area of the market for consumer goods, SYMS, the off-price clothing store, declares, “An educated consumer is our best customer.”
Nowhere is that more true than in the market for art.
Kenneth Adams, Taos Woman, 1926, Conte Crayon, 14" x 12"