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 Walter Ufer  (1876 - 1936)

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Lived/Active: New Mexico      Known for: landscape, figure, portrait and Indian genre painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Germany to parents who had immigrated the next year to Louisville, Kentucky, Walter Ufer became one of the founders of the Taos Society of Artists and achieved much distinction as a painter of Pueblo Indian genre. He was a complex, enigmatic personality, claiming that he was born in Louisville rather than Germany and suffering chronic alcoholism. During periods of sobriety, he painted powerful canvases of New Mexico Indian genre, especially of the Taos Pueblo.

He showed early art talent and was encouraged by his father, a master gunsmith and by his teachers. After grammar school, he apprenticed to a lithography firm where he learned basic design principles. He spent seven years in Europe and earned his formal art education at Germany's Royal Academy of Fine Arts where he became friends with American artists, Joseph Henry Sharp and Ernest Blumenschein.

In 1911, he married Mary Fredericksen, an artist, and in 1913, they painted in Paris, Italy and North Africa before going to Chicago. To make a living, he worked as a commercial illustrator in Chicago, and his first patron was the mayor, Carter Harrison, who arranged in 1914 for Ufer to go to Taos, New Mexico and to return several more times at his expense. Sharp and Blumenschein were already painting there, and they welcomed Ufer.

However, Ufer was not comfortable in his subservient relationship with Harrison and said unkind things about him behind his back. But lucky for Ufer, he took Harrison's advice to paint the Indians as he saw them in Taos and not depict romanticized subject matter from the past as he had learned in European academies.

Years later, Ufer described his work in a way that would have pleased Harrison: "I paint the Indian as he is. In the garden digging--in the field working--riding amongst the sage--meeting his woman in the desert--angling for trout--in meditation" ("American Art Review" (6/99).

In 1917, he became a Taos resident for the remainder of his life and a member of the Taos Society of Artists, formed by others including Sharp and Blumenschein to promote sales of their art. He also painted in surrounding states including Arizona as early as 1905 where he sketched the Grand Canyon.

Between 1916 and 1926, Ufer earned several prestigious awards including membership in the National Academy of Design in New York and recognition by the Art Institute of Chicago. During that time, his paintings were added to permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. Throughout most of the last twenty years of his painting career, he had a very generous patron, William Henry Klauer, a wealthy businessman from Dubuque, Iowa, who provided him with the critical financial safety net to continue painting.

Ufer was highly political and dedicated to eradicating social injustice. He was an active socialist, close friend of Socialist Leader Leon Trotsky, and he frequently joined picket lines of striking workers. Not surprisingly his paintings often depicted socially oppressed Pueblo Indians, unromanticized in every day life.

His personal life was troubled by chronic alcoholism and indebtedness. Although his paintings sold well in the 1920s, their market dropped with the Stock Market crash, and their value did not increase until long after his death in 1936.

Source:
Dean Porter, "Taos Artists and Their Patrons"
Peggy and Harold Samuels, "Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West"
"American Art Review", June 1999

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery Santa FeTucson:
Walter Ufer grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of a master gunsmith. His artistic endeavors received strong support from his parents and teachers and, after an apprenticeship in the printing plant of a Louisville commercial lithographer, Ufer traveled to Dresden, Germany to study at the Royal Applied Art Schools and the Royal Academy. After seven years spent abroad, during which he met J.H. Sharp and Ernest Blumenschein, Ufer moved to Chicago, where he find a powerful benefactor in Carter Harrison, the mayor. Harrison, along with his friend and partner, the meat-packing tycoon Oscar Mayer, sent Ufer south to Taos on a painting trip in 1914.

As with almost every other artist of the era who came in contact with Taos, Walter Ufer was smitten from the start. The landscape was of some interest but, for Ufer, it was the Taos Indian who served as the subject of his fascination more than anything else. His approach to the Indians was slightly different than man of his contemporaries, as well; Ufer, a strong supporter of individual freedoms and a devout socialist, (and friend of Leon Trotsky) saw the Pueblo Indians as having been oppressed for centuries in such a manner as to stomp out their racial and cultural identity. "The Indian has lost his race pride," Ufer said, "he wants only to be an American. Our civilization has terrific power. We don't feel it, but that man out there in the mountains feels it, and he cannot cope with such pressure."

These feelings of anger and despair were a continuing theme in Ufer's work. He joined many picket lines and protests by labor groups and, during the flu pandemic of 1919, which killed over a half a million Americans, Walter Ufer worked day and night to assist the only doctor in Taos in treating the ill. Some degree of the despair associated with his compassion was probably psychiatric; an alcoholic and depressive, Ufer suffered from many crippling episodes of desolation. When suffering, he was moody and unproductive, and his entire body of work is the product of his better days, as drinking and gambling occupied him during his dark spells.

Despite all that, he sold large amounts of work during the 1920s and achieved a fairly high profile. Warm and personable, he had many friends, whose friendship he would occasionally abuse by borrowing money and failing to pay it back. Aside from a disastrous experiment in 1923 wherein Ufer, on the urging of his agent, failed to sell a lot of paintings that all featured the same Indian figure on a white horse against a background of Taos Mountain, he was generally successful until the stock market crash of 1929. Destitution did not sit well with Walter Ufer, and he succumbed entirely to alcoholism.

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery:
WALTER UFER, NA (1837-1936)

Literature:
AMERICAN PAINTINGS AND SCULPTURE, Corcaran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., page 673.

Exhibitions:
National Academy of Design, 1922, #59.
Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, Hartford, Twelfth Annual Exhibition, 1922
Art Institute of Chicago Annual Exhibition, 1923, #227.

Awards:
Honorable Mention, Connecticut Academy of Fine Art, 1922
William M.R. French Award, Alumni of Art Institute of Chicago, 1923.

Raised in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of a German immigrant who was a master engraver, Walter Ufer began his art training as an apprentice to a Louisville commercial lithographer. Having excelled in his field, he continued his education at the Royal Applied Art Schools and the Royal Academy in Dresden, Germany. Already a successful printer, Ufer decided to utilize his realistic painting style developed in Europe by becoming a fine artist. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago, then the J. Francis Smith Art School in Chicago from 1901 to 1903, where he became a teacher and concentrated mostly on portrait painting. He worked with Armour & Co's advertising department from 1905 to 1911. For the next two years he furthered his studies under the tutelage of Walter Thor in Munich. Upon completing his studies, he traveled to Paris, Italy and throughout North Africa painting as he went.
In 1914 Ufer moved to Taos. Called "energetic, outspoken and uninhibited" as well as "stormy, irascible and intransigent," he quickly made his mark on the art community. He was said to paint "easily recognizable forms in an anecdotal manner." He was the only Taos artist to ever be compared to Cezanne.

In 1920 he won third prize at the Carnegie International, a breakthrough in prestige for Taos and a real feather in Ufer's cap, whose prices went from $3,000 per painting to an annual income of approximately $50,000.

In 1923, Ufer's dealer persuaded him to specialize in paintings of an Indian on a white horse against the background of Taos Mountain. This contrived approach soon failed and Ufer was left broken emotionally. He borrowed money, gambled it all away and drank heavily. In a 1927 letter to Ernest Blumenschein, Ufer wrote "If I had money, I would be doing something more manly than paint pictures. My regret is that I cannot compete with real towering men." Today his paintings are highly sought after and he is considered one of the most important artists to ever have come out of Taos.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, VII:
Until recently, the study of Walter Ufer’s art has been obscured by the events of his personal life. Ufer possessed a strong personality, self-centered, drive, and was politically active throughout his life. His work in Taos can be seen as a visual counterpart to the conflicting forces that were at work within him.

He was born in the year of the nation’s Centennial and in 1893 sailed to Germany, eventually spending three years in Dresden as a student at the Royal Academy and as a member of art circles there. In 1900, he moved to Chicago and worked as a graphic designer, and began to attract critical acclaim for his work. In 1911, he was able to afford two years’ study in Europe; returning to Chicago, he exhibited his paintings to great praise and was awarded a travel opportunity to New Mexico as a guest of the Santa Fe Railroad.

Taos captured Ufer’s imagination, as it had so many artists, and by 1917 he was an active member of the Taos Society of Artist. He then divided his time between Chicago, New York and Taos, and by 1920 his paintings of Taos Indians had achieved great notoriety.Ufer saw the New Mexico Indian as an example of a people who had been vanquished by civilization. “The Indian has lost his race pride,” Ufer commented at one point. “He wants only to be American. Our civilization has terrific power. We don’t feel it, but that man out there in the mountains feels it, and he cannot cope with such pressure.”

Accordingly, Ufer depicted the Indian with an unblinking eye for detail, often without the romanticized trappings of lost grandeur. His bold, confident use of thickly applied paint, which he had learned abroad, was intensified by the vibrant color and sharp contrasting light of Taos. Ufer was very fond of the work of John Singer Sargent, and his work shows this influence in the portrayal of the hands, faces, and garments of the figures.

Ufer, however, in his best work, went beyond the surface of things to expose the undercurrents of human feeling. Unlike so many of his Taos counterparts, he seems to have been struck by the irony of the Indian’s lot in this artistic paradise, and he used the language of paint to argue more eloquently than he could have done with words.

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

Biography from Nedra Matteucci Galleries:
WALTER UFER (1876-1936)

Walter Ufer was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of German immigrants. His father was a master gunsmith noted for his fine engraving work. Though Ufer's formal education did not extend beyond grammar school, his promising artistic talent led his father to apprentice him to a commercial lithographer. At age seventeen, Ufer followed his mentor to Germany, working as a journeyman printer and engraver. He soon decided to pursue a career as a painter and enrolled in the Royal Applied Art School and the Royal Academy, both in Dresden.

By 1899 Ufer had returned to the United States to settle in Chicago. He continued his studies at the Art Institute while supporting himself as a commercial lithographer and engraver. In 1911 he married a Danish-born artist, Mary Fredericksen. The couple returned to Europe for two years, traveling extensively and studying with Walter Thor in Munich.

After returning to Chicago in 1914, Ufer, along with fellow artist Victor Higgins, was commissioned by art patron Carter Harrison to paint at Taos. Both men were captivated by the little village and decided to stay. They were invited to join the Taos Society of Artists and became full members in 1917. Though the Ufers travelled extensively, Taos was their home until Ufer's untimely death in 1936.

By all accounts, Ufer was a colorful personality. He was a generous, outspoken man with a sensitive social conscience. During the flu epidemic of 1919, he worked day and night alongside the town's only doctor, ministering to the sick.

Ufer was the first New Mexico artist to win a prize at the Carnegie International. Included among his other numerous awards are the Chicago Art Institutes's First Logan Prize, the Isidor Gold Medal, the Pennsylvania Academy's Temple Gold Medal and the National Academy of Design's Altman Prize, which he won twice. Ufer's brilliant, boldly painted compositions are distinctive images of the Taos Indian surrounded by the magnificent landscape of the region.


Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Beverly Hills:
Walter Ufer was born in Germany in 1876, and came to the U.S. the next year, settling in Kentucky. Having shown talent at an early age, he was apprenticed to a lithography firm, before leaving for Europe to study at the Royal Academy in Munich, where he met Joseph Sharp and Ernest Blumenschein.

Upon his return to the states, Ufer worked as an illustrator in Chicago before moving permanently to Taos in 1917, where he founded to Taos Society of Artists, and concentrated on simple, non-dramatized paintings of the Native American. Though hampered at times by chronic alcoholism, his work won him great acclaim, and earned him membership in the National Academy of Design in New York.

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Walter Ufer is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Painters of Grand Canyon
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Taos Pre 1940
Modernism
Western Painters



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