Ernest Leonard Blumenschein 1874 - 1960
- Ernest Leonard Blumenschein
White Blanket and Blue Spruce
- signed E.L. Blumenschein and dated 1919, l.l.
- oil on linen mounted on paperboard
Albuquerque, New Mexico, Albuquerque Museum; Denver, Colorado, Denver Art Museum; Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum, In Contemporary Rhythm: The Arts of Ernest L. Blumenschein, June 2008-June 2009, pp. 139-40, illustrated in color p. 142
Ernest Blumenschein's artistic career began at an early age with formal training in music, which instilled in him both discipline and dedication to the arts. While attending the Cincinnati College of Music at the encouragement of his father, Blumenschein took classes at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where his passion for painting evolved into a lifelong career. Blumenschein's interest in the American West started while he was continuing his art studies at the Académie Julian in Paris; there he met three young American artists -- Bert Phillips, Eanger Irving Couse and Joseph Henry Sharp. Sharp told stories of his time spent sketching in New Mexico, a spark which ignited and developed in Blumenschein a yearning to explore the West as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Returning from Paris in 1896, Blumenschein quickly settled into a successful career as an illustrator in New York, and was able to venture out west on a sketching trip with Phillips by 1898. Their travels were disrupted when a broken wagon wheel left them stranded just twenty miles north of Taos. Blumenschein carried the wheel on horseback into the valley to have it repaired and was stunned by the sight of the vast mountains and desert plateaus of northern New Mexico. He vowed to live and paint in this extraordinary place some day, but could only stay a few months during this short trip. Over the next decade, Blumenschein moved between New York, Paris and Giverny working on commissions from magazines and painting portraits, variously exhibited in the Paris Salons and the Salmagundi Club. First returning to Taos in the summer of 1911, he visited yearly, before relocating there permanently in 1920.
In 1915, Blumenschein, along with Phillips, Couse, Sharp, Oscar Berninghaus and W. Herbert Dunton, founded the Taos Society of Artists "to promote the highest possible standards in painting, to educate the public about the western scene through their art, to circulate joint exhibitions for the purpose of sales and mutual promotion, and to encourage excellence in allied forms of art such as sculpture, architecture, music and literature" (Peter H. Hassrick, In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein, Norman, Oklahoma, 2008, p. 94). Together, yet in their individual styles, they painted the local culture and people of Taos while forming a blossoming art colony. They sought to preserve their subjects' Native American heritage by celebrating its traditions and extolling their modern day lives. Blumenschein greatly respected the Taos people for their dignity and religious integrity and sympathized with the difficulties they faced as a culture in transition, endangered by the increasingly dominant Anglo-Christian way of life. His stance on social issues expressed itself in the close bonds he established with his Indian models and the often empathetic viewpoint he brought to his portraits. Mary Carroll Nelson writes, "He adopted a brighter palette and he gave rein to an intuitive, mystical understanding of his Indian subjects, portraying not just their appearance but also their emotions" (The Legendary Artists of Taos, New York, 1980, p. 31).
According to Blumenschein's daughter Helen, her father's early years as a Taos resident were "completely happy" and allowed him to realize his full potential as an artist. He began to create large-scale oils which at once incorporated a symbolic visual lexicon and an intensely colorful, three-dimensional format. Painted in 1922, White Blanket and Blue Spruce features a single, standing female figure draped in swaths of fabric. The woman comprises almost two-thirds of the composition and gazes directly at the viewer. Peter H. Hassrick writes, "White Blanket and Blue Spruce is particularly compelling with its contrast of tinted cobalt blue bows that flow forward in Art Nouveau elegance and the stark white blanket that wraps the subject" (In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein, p. 139). Patricia Broder notes, "As he matured he became a master of composition, concentrated on the fundamental structure of his painting, and studied the dynamics of linear pattern and the balance of masses. Above all, he was a painter of vision and imagination. He believed that as an artist he must record his own reaction to life and not merely imitate nature"(Taos: A Painter's Dream, p. 81).
Blumenschein was a perfectionist when it came to his work, destroying pictures that did not meet his high standards. He chose to paint for the major national competitive exhibitions of his era, earning critical acclaim and many awards along the way. He considered approximately fifty paintings worthy of representing his mature aesthetic. Treasured by private collectors and museums, the greatest number of his paintings can be found in the Stark Museum of Art in Texas and the Gilcrease Museum in Oklahoma. Several others can be found at institutions scattered across the country including the Denver Art Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.