(1874 - 1952)
"Riders on the Rio Grande", Oil on
canvas, 25 x 30 inches
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by Oscar Berninghaus?
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and Taos Founders' paintings executed between 1880 and 1940
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Oscar Berninghaus Biography
A founder in 1898 of the Taos Society
of Artists, Oscar Berninghaus excelled at drawing animals and figures in
contemporary garb in Southwestern landscapes. Many of his early
paintings were Impressionistic, "suffused with color and light". (Gerdts
He was born in St. Louis, Missouri and developed an interest in art
through his family's lithography business. He attended night classes at
the St. Louis School of Fine Art. In 1898, he was on an illustration
assignment for "McClure's" magazine, which took him for the first of
many times into New Mexico and Arizona. He had heard of the special
beauty of Taos and there met Bert Geer Phillips, who was already a
resident, and Phillips invited him to return.
This visit began a tradition of spending the winter months in St. Louis
and the summers in Taos. He remained active in both communities, and for
many years designed the costumes and floats for the Veiled Prophet
parade, a famous annual event in St. Louis.
He also did a series of western scenes commissioned by the
Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association to promote a manly, ruggedness theme
in their products and to enhance their image as good Americans, an image
that was being attacked by suffragettes. In this capacity and without
visiting the area, Berninghaus did a painting titled "Old Faithful,
Yellowstone" in 1914, which was used as a calendar illustration in the
Berninghaus was a sketch artist for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad
to depict landscape of Colorado and New Mexico. In 1912, he joined the
founding members of the Taos Society of Artists, whose goal was to
promote sales of their work in Taos and other markets. In 1919, he
bought an old adobe house near Taos overlooking the town and in 1925
settled there permanently.
He did some painting in surrounding states including Phoenix, Arizona in
1931, where he painted a five lunette mural at the Post Office building
of the opening of the west.
His style was one of short, quick brush strokes, which gave his work a
unique texture. Early in his career, he painted on site, but later from
memory, which was described as being extremely accurate. One of the
reasons he was committed to the Taos Art Colony was that he believed it
was a distinctly American art, something definitive of subject matter
unique to this country. He depicted Indians in a realistic,
unromaticized way, going about their lives as they actually did in
twentieth-century New Mexico.
Michael David Zellman, "300 Years of American Art"
Peggy and Harold Samuels, "Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West"
Peter Hassrick, "Drawn to Yellowstone"
William Gerdts, "American Impressionism"