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 Ernest Leonard Blumenschein  (1874 - 1960)

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Lived/Active: New Mexico/New York      Known for: Indian figure and landscape painting, illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A founder of the Taos Art Colony in Taos, New Mexico, Ernest Blumenschein became one of the Southwest's best-known painters of pueblo Indian genre. However, this period in his career for which he was most known came relatively late in his life as he had strong academic training in New York and Paris followed by a flourishing career as an illustrator in the East.

He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of a prominent musician and had early exposure to both music and art.  In Cincinnati, he attended the College of Music and The Art Academy, and then went to New York to the Art Students League.  In New York, he supported himself as a violinist for the symphony and in 1894, played first violinist under conductor Antonin Dvorak.

In 1895, he studied in Paris at the Julian Academy where he became a close friend of Joseph Henry Sharp and Bert Phillips.  Sharp told them about the marvelous landscape in New Mexico and encouraged them to join him there.

In New York, Blumenschein shared a studio with Phillips, and in 1898 with Blumenschein on assignment from McClure's magazine to sketch the Southwest, he and Sharp traveled to Arizona and New Mexico.  They inadvertently stopped in Taos when their wagon wheel broke because it was the nearest town.  This adventure, which led to both of them ultimately settling there, was the beginning of the Taos Art Colony, a group composed of eastern artists who depicted the landscape and pueblo Indians.

Until 1919, he divided his time between Taos and New York City where he taught at the Art Students League and he and his wife, Mary Shepard Greene, worked together on illustration assignments.  In 1919, having spent their summers in Taos, the couple moved there permanently.  They moved at first into a small structure on Ledoux Street, but acquired more property on both sides and eventually lived in an eleven-room house.  Mary became a noted designer of jewelry, inspired by designs she saw in the natural landscape.

In the Southwest, his painting became brighter, and his earlier illustration style changed to one that was more mystical and intuitive of Indian subjects.  His later work had especially dense pigment because he had trouble finishing work and painted it over and over.  He continued to paint in Arizona as well as New Mexico, completing a work in 1929 called Apache Country, and from 1932 to 1957, working on a painting he titled Arizona Dam, showing the modernization of that state with a dam along the Colorado River.  The location is likely Roosevelt Dam, but the painting is abstract enough that it is difficult to tell the exact location.

Among his Taos colleagues Blumenschein was the best known nationally at that time, and traveling widely, stayed in touch with art movements throughout the country.  His painting style tended to be much more modernist than many of New Mexico peers, and he was considered quite intellectual because of his articulations and interest in stimulating discussions of art theories.

Sources include:
Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Biographical Dictionary of Artists of the American West
James Ballinger, Visitors to Arizona 1846 to 1980
Walt Reed, The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery Santa FeTucson:
Ernest L. Blumenschein was one of the more well known of the Taos painters during his lifetime.  His painstakingly executed canvases, in his distinctive style that was first called "post-impressionist" and later modernist, garnered him a wide and appreciative audience, and numerous awards.  His paintings today are held by the most important museum collections in the United States.

Blumenschein was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to parents of German descent, and raised in Dayton, Ohio.  His father was a professional musician and composer, who chiefly made his living as a conductor of large choruses.  The young Ernest excelled at music from the beginning, and his father had high hopes that he would follow his footsteps and become a professional.  When Ernest showed an interest in art, his father only pushed him harder to stay devoted to music, feeling that was where his greatest talent lay.

At 17, Blumenschein won a scholarship to study at the Cincinnati College of Music.  However, while studying music he also enrolled in classes at the Art Academy.  He was soon convinced that his future career was to be that of an artist, and consequently moved to New York City to study painting at the Art Students League.  But he remained a tremendously talented musician, supporting himself by playing first violin in the New York Symphony.  The conductor at the time was  the world famous Czech composer, Anton Dvorak.  He was apparently so impressed with the youngster that he appointed him first violin immediately after hearing him play a D minor scale.  Few people would have given up a music career that was off to such a promising start, but Blumenschein had made his decision.

At the end of the 19th Century, it was compulsory that an aspiring painter study in Europe.  Blumenschein made his first trip in 1892 to study at the Academie Julian in Paris, where he worked at academic figure painting.  While in Paris, he met some other future Taos painters: Bert Phillips, E.I. Couse, and most notably, Joseph Henry Sharp.  It was Sharp who would inspire the other three with his stories and sketches of Arizona and New Mexico.  Blumenschein determined that he would visit the Southwest as soon as the opportunity arose.

Upon his return from Paris, Blumenschein began what would become a successful illustration career.  He worked for magazines such as Century, Harper's, Scribner's and McClure's.  It was an assignment for McClure's that first sent him to the Southwest.  He came back from his trip enthralled, and excited about the possibility of a painting trip to the region.  He urged Bert Phillips to save enough money to join him, and 1898 they set out by covered wagon.  Crossing into northern New Mexico in early September, they encountered roads that had been all but destroyed by summer storms.  After fighting their way up one particularly steep and muddy road, one of the wagon wheels broke.  They needed a blacksmith, and the nearest town was Taos.  After a coin toss, Phillips stayed with the crippled wagon, and Blumenschein set out on horseback with the wagon wheel.  His feelings as he rode alone through the New Mexico landscape are best told in his own words:

"No artist had ever recorded the New Mexico I was now seeing.  No writer had ever written down the smell of this air or the feel of that morning's sky.  I was receiving...the first great unforgettable inspiration of my life."  He was 24 years old at the time.

The natives that Blumenschein encountered were friendly, and once the wheel was mended he and Phillips took their wagon into town and started to paint.  Phillips was as inspired by the surroundings as Blumenschein, and it was he who stayed on. Blumenschein left Taos after three months and went back to Paris for further study. He only stayed a year, and returned to New York to continue his work as an illustrator, but went back to Paris in 1902 for a more protracted stay.

Blumenschein continued his studies in Paris, and also kept working as an illustrator, supporting himself easily.  In fact, during this time in Paris, his illustration work was much in demand by American magazines, indicated by his commissions mounting every month.  He also illustrated several books, including Jack London's first book, Love of Life, in 1904.  This led to his working with other famous writers such as Stephen Crane, Willa Cather, and Joseph Conrad.

During this time he also met a painter named Mary Shepard Greene, who was fairly prominent in Paris at the time.  She exhibited widely, and had won medals at the Paris salons.  Blumenschein and Greene married in 1905, to the consternation of her friends, who thought that a prominent painter should not be marrying an illustrator, and that it would damage Greene's career.  In fact, both of their careers went on fine.  Even after their move to New York in 1909, Greene continued to exhibit widely in Europe, as well as the United States.

Back in New York, the Blumenscheins both taught at the Pratt Institute.  Ernest worked tirelessly at his paintings and as an illustrator during the fall and winter, and spent every summer in Taos.  Mary would not accompany him on these sojourns, as she was genuinely terrified of the American Indians.  Her fears were obviously unfounded, as her husband returned safely from his summer trips, year after year. They remained in New York, and Blumenschein began to have great success exhibiting his paintings.  Recognition included the Silver Medal, Pan Pacific Exposition, 1914; Potter Palmer Gold Medal, Art Institute of Chicago, 1917; Steinway Collection, commission for a painting based on MacDowell's "Indian Suite;" and election as an Sssociate to the National Academy of Design. 

In 1917, Mary Blumenschein received an inheritance that included a nice house in Brooklyn, the sale of which two years later left the Blumenscheins financially independent.  At that time, Mary finally acquiesced to moving the family to Taos, in no small part because their daughter was in fragile health, and it was hoped that the dry Western air would be good for her.  The whole family settled quite comfortably at Taos, their money enabling them to buy a large property, and Blumenschein went to work at painting.  He is remembered as an artist of boundless enthusiasm, with extremely high standards, both as an artist and an intellectual.  He was so uncompromising with his work that today only his best work survives:

"I can't explain why I paint and draw. It is as necessary for me to do as for an apple tree to produce fruit. Just a job I love.  But a good many bad apples came off my tree - and were often destroyed."

He would often repaint canvases, sometimes after many years had passed.

It should be noted that Blumenschein had another vent, throughout his life, for his enthusiasm and determination: athletics.  He had played tennis as a boy, and football in high school.  It was while he was in Paris that he began playing tennis seriously, winning several trophies there.  He continued in the United States, often traveling to play in tournaments that he frequently won.  He was ever the artist though, as he said: "There was never a tennis trip that didn't yield a picture."  He would often return to paint landscapes that he had glimpsed while on the road or in another town.  Another passion of his was the game of bridge, which he played in tournaments across the country, and which he considered a great discipline in memory.

During the 1920's, Blumenschein continued to win awards for his paintings.  Some of the institutions that honored him were The Gilcrease Foundation, Oklahoma; Art Director's Show, New York; National Academy of Design, New York; Fort Worth Art Museum, Texas; City of Philadelphia; Brooklyn Museum, New York; National Arts Club; and the Chicago World's Fair.

In 1927, he was elected to full membership of the National Academy, which was the highest honor that an American artist could receive at the time.  He had gallery representation through Grand Central Art Galleries, in the Grand Central Terminal, New York, and his paintings continued to travel the country.  Throughout the following decades, his work would even traverse the globe, as he was invited to exhibit at the Venice Biennial, and in Budapest, Munich, Paris, England, New Zealand and Argentina.

Blumenschein remained in Taos for the rest of his life, though at one point he began to spend winters in Albuquerque, where it was not quite as cold.  Even when he was eighty years old, he still labored as diligently over his canvases as he ever had. When he died in 1960, he was the most famous resident of Taos, and six years later the Blumenschein home was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Today, Blumenschein's work is held by many prestigious museums in the country including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Metropolitan, and Smithsonian Institution.

Blumenschein once said that he considered his greatest artistic heroes to be Shakespeare, Michelangelo, El Greco, Beethoven, and Bach.  It is fitting that he too became preeminent among artists in his lifetime and has gone down as one of the more important painter's in American history.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, I:
“We all drifted into Taos like skilled hands looking for a good steady job,” Ernest Blumenschein wrote in later years.  “We found it, as it grew into an urge that pushed us to our limits, a joyous inspiration to produce and to give to the deepest extent of each man’s caliber. We lived only to paint.”

Blumenschein, along with his friend Bert Phillips, had discovered Taos in 1898 when they were both just beginning their artistic careers.  Raised in Dayton, Ohio, he was the son of a prominent musician, and thus had early exposure to both music and art. Blumenschein attended the College of Music and The Art Academy in Cincinnati, and then enrolled in the Arts Students League in New York City in 1892. Two years later he was in Paris, where he enrolled in the Julian Academy and met three other artist would become lifelong friends: Phillips, Eanger I. Couse, and Joseph H. Sharp. It was at this point that Sharp told the other artist about Taos and northern New Mexico.

By 1896, Blumenschein was back in New York, working at a career as a commercial illustrator. Two years later Blumenschein and Phillips, who were sharing a studio, journeyed to New Mexico on a magazine assignment to record the Indians of the Southwest.  Blumenschein vividly recalled their first view of the region. “The sky about was clear clean blue with sharp moving clouds,” he wrote. “The color, the reflective character of the landscape, the drama of the vast spaces, the superb beauty and severity of the hills, stirred me deeply.”

The two artists finally reached Taos, where they founded the Taos Arts Colony. In the Southwest, Blumenschein’s style changed. His paintings became brighter, and his earlier illustration style became one that was more mystical and intuitive of Indian subjects. His later work had especially dense pigment because he had trouble finishing work, and painted it over and over.  Phillips decided to settle in Taos permanently, while Blumenschein returned to New York to continue his career.

Beginning in 1910, Blumenschein spent his summers working in Taos, and in 1920 he settled there for good, having relinquished his career as an illustrator to pursue his art full-time.  He acquired a spacious studio and began to paint vivid depictions of the land and the people.

Blumenschein manages to impart a clear sense of space and quietude in his scenes with the strength of his forms and his use of expressive color. At the time, Blumenschein was one of the best known of his peers.  He was considered quite intellectual because of his articulations and interest in stimulating discussions of art theories.

Sources include:
The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, Dr. Rick Stewart, Hawthorne Publishing Company, 1986

Biography from Nedra Matteucci Galleries:
Ernest Blumenschein was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and raised in Dayton, Ohio. His family hoped he would follow in his father's footsteps and become a musician and composer.  However, while attending the Cincinnati College of Music on scholarship, Blumenschein also enrolled in the Cincinnati Art Academy.  His developing artistic talent was enthusiastically encouraged, and he decided to pursue a career in art, later enrolling at the Art Students League in New York.  Blumenschein continued his training at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he met fellow students Sharp, Phillips and Couse, whose stories inspired him to visit the American West.

After returning to the U.S., Blumenschein worked as a commercial illustrator, and in 1898 he was sent to Taos on assignment by McClure's.  That trip, made with Bert Geer Phillips, led to the founding of the first art colony west of the Mississippi.

Though for many years he divided his time between New York and Europe, spending summers in Taos, it was New Mexico and its native cultures that were his life's inspiration.  In 1918, Blumenschein and his wife Mary, also a highly successful artist, settled permanently in Taos.

Blumenschein was considered one of the most articulate, intelligent and enthusiastic spokesmen for the Taos Society of Artists.  He created daring compositions using bold colors combined with symbolic and intuitive elements in strong geometric patterns.  His paintings are essential to the creation of the Taos artistic legend and continue to provide a contemporary perspective to the magic, myth and meaning of the Taos experience.

Ernest Blumenschein received numerous awards and honors including election to full membership in the National Academy of Design.  He was awarded that organization's Altman prize, as well as the Logan prize, which he won twice.  Blumenschein's paintings are included in many important collections.

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Carmel:
Ernest Blumenschein was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to an artistic family.  He studied art at the Art Academy in Cincinnati, and at the Art Students League in New York, before heading to the Julian Academy in Paris.

While in Paris, Blumenschein befriended the artist Joseph Henry Sharp, who expounded greatly on the merits of the New Mexico landscape.

Blumenschein first visited Taos in 1898, and began dividing his time between there and New York.  One of the founders of the Taos Art Colony, Blumenschein became one of the Southwest's most famous painters of pueblo Indian genre.

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Ernest Blumenschein is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Illustrators
Painters of Grand Canyon
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Paris Pre 1900
Taos Pre 1940
Western Painters



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