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Fremont Ellis

 (1897 - 1985)
Fremont F. Ellis was active/lived in New Mexico, California, Montana.  Fremont Ellis is known for landscape and Indian subject painting, graphics.

Fremont Ellis

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Fremont Ellis
Born in Virginia City, Montana, Fremont Ellis earned a reputation as a New Mexico painter of site-specific landscapes that conveyed his intense feelings for the rich coloration of the Southwest.  He was much influenced by American Impressionism and was one of the few newcomer artists of Santa Fe who had been born in the West.

His family had gone to Montana during the Gold Rush, and his father, trained as a dentist, went into theatrical work.  As a youngster, Ellis played the drums in his father's movie theatre.  The family traveled all over the county, and the future artist spent much time in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  He briefly attended the Art Students League, but decided to return West to the landscape he loved.

He first went to El Paso, Texas, where he taught art and then in Santa Fe joined his friends Willard Nash, Jozef Bakos, Will Shuster, and Walter Mruk.  Together they formed the Los Cinco Pintores, modernist-tending artists who had their first of several exhibitions in the Museum of Santa Fe in 1921.  However, the group did not stay together very long, as stylistically they went in a variety of directions.

Ellis, considered the "loner" of the group, married and spent a period of time in Espanola, about twenty-five miles north of Santa Fe.  Later he settled about ten miles east of Santa Fe in a home that came to be regarded as one of the most beautiful of the haciendas in that area.

From the time he was young, he had developed a great love of the Spanish people of New Mexico.  His wife was a member of an old, aristocratic New Mexican family that owned in Santa Fe a large piece of property where the Hilton Inn subsequently was located.  Ellis became saddened by what he regarded as the loss of the old ways--the quiet, gentle way of life.

Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Fremont Ellis
Born in Virginia City, MT on Oct. 2, 1897, the son of an itinerant dentist. Ellis grew up without a formal education and remained a self-taught artist except for three months at the ASL in NYC. In order to learn a trade, he moved to Los Angeles in 1915 and entered optometry school. After two years he abandoned optometry to become a full-time painter while living on Freedom Hill in the San Fernando Valley. After 1920 he was a resident of Santa Fe, NM but continued to be active in Los Angeles. In 1921 he and Mruk, Bakos, Nash and Shuster formed Los Cinco Pintores. Ellis was a long-time resident of Santa Fe, but died in his native city on Jan. 12, 1985. Exh: Calif. Art Club, 1921-24; LACMA, 1922 (solo); Oakland Art Gallery, 1953 (medal). In: S.S. America (mural).

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Who's Who in American Art 1936-56; Southern California Artists (Nancy Moure); Artists of the American West (Samuels); American Western Art (Harmsen).

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Nedra Matteucci Galleries
Biography photo for Fremont Ellis
Fremont Ellis was born in 1897 in Virginia City, Montana, a small, remote mining town. The area was having a second gold boom, and it was crowded with engineers and miners. Ellis later commented, "I don't know if there was any influence in such a beginning, but I guess I got off to a roaring start."

The family moved to multiple towns in Montana during Ellis's childhood. His father dabbled in mining, worked as dentist, and later became a showman. He trained a horse to do fancy tricks, and then he ran motion picture theaters. Due to their gypsy lifestyle, Ellis did not attend school past the first grade. Instead, he learned from his mother, a hat designer, and father, whom he described as a man with a marvelous imagination.

During his early-teen years, Ellis and his family traveled through the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia. In 1910, they moved to New York. He reluctantly went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother. Ellis was mesmerized by the paintings. He especially loved Albert Bierstadt's depictions of western landscapes. For weeks, he returned to study the paintings, day after day. He would buy inexpensive, black and white prints, and attempt to copy them at home. He had to remember the light and color on his own, and this is how he learned to remember what he saw. He also added his own expression to the work, which came from his mind's eye. In an interview with freelance writer Barbara Whipple, he said: "Physical vision you must have, but you must have the mental vision to go with it. You see with the mental vision as well as the physical."

Ellis began to paint with oils, thanks to a Christmas gift in 1910. When he was around fourteen, his father enrolled him in the Art Student's League. He attended classes for three months. Then, he declared that the outdoors was his best teacher and continued to paint on his own. He read often, though, and studied art and artists extensively.

The family moved to El Paso, Texas, and at 18 years old, Ellis had his first show at a Local University Club. His work sold well. A dealer in El Paso agreed to represent him. At the age of 21, Ellis traveled to Santa Fe to spend the summer with family friends, Albert Severs and his wife. He was immediately in love with the town. He said, later, "It was the most beautiful place I'd ever seen." He loved the landscape, the atmosphere, and the architecture.

Ellis also fell in love with a a beautiful young woman in Santa Fe: Laurencita Gonzales. She was a descendent of Spanish colonists, and did not speak much English. Nor did Ellis speak Spanish, but the language of love was enough, and the two of them were married. In Santa Fe, in 1921, Ellis and four other artists, Jozef Bakos, Walter Mruk, Willard Nash and Will Shuster, formed Los Cinco Pintores. All five artists were under 30, and Ellis was the youngest of them all.

Los Cinco Pintores is considered one of the most important artist groups in the Southwest. Though loosely organized and known for being impulsive, the group was dedicated to sharing art with the people, and not surrendering to commercialism. Each painter had an individual style; it was their camaraderie and philosophy that held the group together. They are the seed that inspired the Canyon Road art galleries in Santa Fe.

Though he was not an instant success, Ellis became quite famous during his lifetime. His painting are highly emotional, and sometimes have a hint of gloom, but he was well-liked. An impressionistic painter, with a love of nature, and light, Ellis' brushwork is vivid and definite. Towards the end of his life, he said, "The thing that really makes a picture good—you can't tell."

Ellis won numerous awards, including the Huntington award for best landscape in the Los Angeles Museum in 1924, the Hazel Hyde Morrison Prize and the Bronze Medal at the Oakland Museum, and a gold medal in 1975 from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. However, he refused to accept these awards in person, and remained unassuming until he died, at the age of 87, in 1985.

Foster, Barbara Spencer. Fremont F. Ellis: Last of Los Cinco Pintores of Santa Fe. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2010.

Biography from The Owings Gallery
Biography photo for Fremont Ellis
Fremont Ellis is perhaps most well-remembered as one of the founding members of Los Cinco Pintores, Santa Fe's first modernist art group. The group consisted of Ellis, Józef Bakós, Walter Mruk, Willard Nash and Will Shuster.

Ellis was the first of his colleagues to arrive in Santa Fe in 1919, drawn to the city by its reputation as a stimulating and pleasant place to work. He came from Montana by way of California and El Paso with little art training (he studied briefly at the Art Students League in New York). When he arrived in Santa Fe he found no formal exhibition group like the Taos Society of Artists. Thus in the Fall of 1921, in a visionary gesture, Los Cinco Pintores was formed. The five young painters, all under thirty, considered themselves the radical young avant-garde artists of Santa Fe. They had all absorbed something of the idealism and new social concepts which were in the air after World War I. The Cincos advocated that modern art was for the common man. As written in their initial statement of purpose, "The concept is that art is universal, that it sings to the peasant laborer as well as to the connoisseur."

Though their manifesto clearly advocated abstracted work, the Cincos actually painted in several genres, including landscape, still life and portraiture. In December of 1921, Los Cinco Pintores held their inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe. In what was characteristic of their work, an art critic noted that "these men believe in color and are not afraid to use it. Upon entering the galleries, visitors are greeted with a great shout of color that's almost stimulating. "Although tagged with the label "modernist" (mostly for exhibition purposes), it is clearly evident in Ellis's paintings that he never seriously accepted the modernist idiom into his work. His romantic landscapes, indebted to impressionist light and brushwork, link his work more closely to that of the Taos founders than to any experimental Santa Fe painting. A self-taught artist of "earthy humility," Ellis "has a vigorous way of applying his paint with a controlled fluency that gives his landscapes a boldness that is appealing." (Van Deren Coke)

As a young man Ellis spent a great deal of time at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City studying the works of the American Impressionists. He would then return home and copy from memory some of the paintings he had spent hours studying. The influence of American Impressionism is evident in Ellis's prominent brushwork, lack of detail, and arresting sense of light.

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery
Fremont Ellis was a multi-talented and anachronistic member of the New Mexico arts community for over sixty years. The son of nomadic dentist, carnival performer and theater operator, Ellis received very little formal education of any kind as he bounced around Montana from one mining town to another. During a brief trip to New York City as a child, Ellis went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose collection mesmerized him. He started painting copies of the pieces while still in New York, and continued to paint regularly upon returning to Montana.

Though he was passionate in his desire to paint, Ellis studied optometry and opened an optometry shop in El Paso, Texas, which promptly failed. He left the field of optometry and traveled to Santa Fe, where he married and settled almost immediately. Again, he was unsuccessful and, beset by financial hardship, he left Santa Fe and moved to California, where he worked as a photographer. It was in photography that he became employed once back in Santa Fe, and his knowledge of camera and film would serve him well in his art.

In 1921 he came in contact with four other young painters in Santa Fe: Josef Bakos, Walter Mruk, Will Shuster, and Willard Nash. Together, they founded a modernist art society in Santa Fe called Los Cinco Pintores. Though the charter of the organization clearly described their stylistic orientation as thoroughly modern, Ellis was never truly a modern painter, tending towards a more realistic style with his own curiously tinted palette. To achieve the right look, Ellis took photographs of the scenes he wished to paint with a variety of different lenses and techniques, and then recreated the shifted color palette of the photographs on paper.

While Los Cinco Pintores didn't last, (they disbanded in 1926) Ellis did, working in Santa Fe until his death in 1985. He showed actively in Santa Fe and Los Angeles, where he had a dedicated following, and his paintings demonstrate a gentle, circumspect individual in the process of recording a region and a way of life that would soon be altered permanently. His work is in the collection of UCLA, the Museum of New Mexico, the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History, the El Paso Museum and the Art Institute, Lubbock, TX.

Biography from David Cook Galleries
Biography photo for Fremont Ellis
The Following was provided by DAVID COOK FINE ART

Fremont Ellis grew up in the mining town of Virginia City, Montana. His interest in art was sparked during a childhood trip to New York when his family visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While at the museum, he viewed works by several artists including Albert Bierstadt. He began painting on his own at the age of thirteen and spent three months at the Art Students League in 1915, his only formal training. Instead of pursuing a career in art, Ellis then traveled to Los Angeles, California, where he studied optometry. By the age of twenty, living in El Paso, Texas, Ellis' shop had failed and he abandoned optometry to pursue painting full time.

In 1919, Ellis visited Santa Fe, married, and decided to take up residence. He was unsuccessful at selling his paintings and relocated to California. However, the primarily self-taught artist soon returned to Santa Fe where he found work as a photographer and sign painter.

In 1921, he founded one of Santa Fe's earliest artist groups, Los Cinco Pintores, with Josef Bakos, Walter Mruk, Will Shuster, and Willard Nash. The group established an artists' colony with the studios they built on the Camino Del Monte Sol. The avante-garde group, of which Ellis is said to have been the most conservative member, exhibited together until they disbanded in 1926.

Ellis continued to live and paint in the area for almost sixty years. He used a camera while sketching and painting, adjusting the color setting on his camera to achieve varied tones.

Exhibited: Society of Independent Artists, 1920; California Art Club, 1921; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1922 (solo), 1924 (Henry E. Huntington Award); Oakland Art Gallery, 1950 (prize), 1953 (medal); Springville Museum, UT (purchase prize).

Works Held: University of California, Los Angeles; Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe; Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History, Tulsa, OK; El Paso Museum, TX; Art Institute, Lubbock, TX.

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery
Born in Virginia City, Montana, Fremont Ellis became a noted Impressionist western painter of California and New Mexico landscape and was a pioneer artist in Santa Fe after World War I. He also painted seascapes, portraits, still lifes, and architectural subjects.

His father was an itinerant dentist in Montana mining towns and also a carnival performer and theater operator. Living a transient childhood, Fremont had minimal formal education and only three months of art training, which was a short stint at the Art Students League in New York. His family had traveled early to New York where he spent much time copying paintings at the Metropolitan Museum.

In 1915, to learn a trade, he went to optometry school in Los Angeles, but after two years abandoned that pursuit to become a full-time painter, living in the San Fernando Valley. In 1920, he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he first worked as a sign painter and photographer to make money while saving to be come a full-time fine artist.

In Santa Fe he met artists Josef Bakos, Will Shuster, Willard Nash, and Wladyslaw Mruk, and they formed a group called "Los Cinco Pintores," the five painters. Their styles and subject matter were widely divergent, but the purpose of the group was to socialize and promote sales. Of the five, he was the least social and moved about ten miles away from Santa Fe to San Sebastian. He and his wife moved an old Spanish house there from Galisteo, and it became one of the most beautiful homes of the area.

While based in Santa Fe, Ellis continued to be active in Los Angeles and also painted Arizona landscapes including Canyon de Chelly on trips between there and Santa Fe. He was able to make a good living, selling his painting against tides of modernism. He lived the later part of his life alone on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, in the home built by artist William Penhallow Henderson.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, II
Biography photo for Fremont Ellis
Santa Fe painter, printmaker, teacher, a founder of Los Cinco Pintores

The father of Fremont Ellis was an itinerant dentist in Montana mining towns, and he became a carnival performer and theater operator.  Ellis grew up without a formal education but began painting at 13.  He was self-taught except for three months at the Art Students League in New York City when he was 18. 

To learn a trade he went to optometry school in Los Angeles.  Then an optometry shop he set up in El Paso failed, and at 20 he became a full-time painter.  In 1919, he visited and married in Santa Fe.  Unable to sell his paintings, he moved back to California where he lived on Freedom Hill in the San Fernando Valley.

Ellis soon returned to Santa Fe, finding work as a sign painter and photographer.  In 1921, he with Bajos, Mruck, Nash and Shuster formed Los Cinco Pintores;  Ellis as an impressionist was most conservative of the group.  Building their own studios on the Camino del Monte Sol, they created an artists' colony.  They exhibited together as a matter of convenience, adding a five-pointed mark to their signatures.

Ellis' landscape, When Evening Comes, won a national prize in 1924.  Although the Pintores separated in 1926, Ellis remained in Santa Fe.  He uses a camera while he is sketching and also while he is painting, to try different tones by adjusting the color setting on the camera.  On the back of each painting, he specifies whether the work is oil or acrylic.

Samuels Encyclopedia of ARTISTS of THE AMERICAN WEST,
Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing

Biography from Adobe Gallery
Fremont Ellis was a Santa Fe painter, printmaker, teacher and founder of the Santa Fe group known as Los Cincos Pintores.  The other members were Bakos, Mruk, Nash, and Shuster.  Fremont Ellis was the most conservative of the group.

Fremont Ellis was a respected citizen of Santa Fe, where he had lived and worked since 1919.  Shortly after his arrival, he joined with Willard Nash, Jozef Bakos, Walter Mruk, and Will Shuster to form one of Santa Fe's earliest artist groups, Los Cincos Pintores.  Although the members of the group built houses adjacent to one another's on the Camino Del Monte Sol and maintained a close friendship all their lives, the association was one of convenience and shared interest, not one based on a common painting style. 

Fremont Ellis' intimate knowledge of the land of the Southwest is reflected in his painting.  These won many prizes, beginning in 1924 when he received the Huntington Award for landscape at the Los Angeles County Museum.   Primarily a self-taught artist, Fremont Ellis studied briefly at the Art Students League in New York in 1925.  His admirers agree that one of the most important elements of his paintings, whatever their subject, is light—the dry, glowing light of the desert.  This emphasis on light is undoubtedly a result of both the physical character of the Southwest and Ellis' avowed admiration for the American Impressionists.

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Santa Monica
Fremont Ellis was born in Virginia City, Montana, in 1897. Ellis had no formal education as a child, and began painting as a young boy. Except for 3 months spent at the Art Students League in New York, Ellis was a self-taught painter.

In 1915 he moved to Los Angeles with the intention of learning optometry. This lasted only 2 years before he quit to pursue his art full-time. From 1920 on Ellis would spend the majority of his time in Santa Fe, and from there he would travel the southwest on painting expeditions.

His works were popular in Santa Fe, as well as Los Angeles, where he exhibited.

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About  Fremont Ellis

Born:  1897 - Virginia City, Montana
Died:   1985 - Virginia City, Montana
Known for:  landscape and Indian subject painting, graphics

Essays referring to
Fremont Ellis

Painters of Grand Canyon
Taos pre-1940