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 Bert Geer Phillips  (1868 - 1956)

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

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Bert Phillips was an American artist, born in Hudson, New York, on July 15, 1868.  The great heroes of Bert Geer Phillips' youth were Kit Carson and the American Indian.  Years later he was able to pay tribute to both of them in a unique and gratifying way, through his paintings.  He began drawing before he could write, and when still a small boy won first prize at the county fair for a collection of watercolors.  After studying at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design, he set up a studio in New York, where he painted for the next five years.  He then spent seven months in England, where he produced some charming watercolors of pastoral scenes.  In Paris, he studied at the Academie Julien with Benjamin Constant and Jean Paul Laurens.  There he met Joseph Sharp and Ernest Blumenschein, who shared his desire to paint the American Indian.  Sharp, who had visited Taos, in 1893, told the two young artists about the beauties of the New Mexico village and its Indians.

Returning to New York, Phillips and Blumenschein shared a studio and planned a sketching trip by horse and wagon, from Denver to Old Mexico.  The journey ended in Taos, in 1898.  Neither of the artists cared to go farther, and Phillips settled immediately, becoming the first of the pioneer Taos artists to establish permanent residence there.

In 1899, he married Rose Martin, an eastern girl who was visiting her brother, Dr. T. P. Martin.  It was at Dr. Martin's house in 1912 that the Taos Society of Artists was organized with Phillips, Blumenschein, Sharp, Irving Couse, Oscar Berninghaus, and Herbert Dunton, as the six charter members.

Of Taos, Phillips said, "I believe it is the romance of this great pure-aired land that makes the most lasting impression on my mind and heart."  He infused his paintings of the Indians with a romantic, lyrical quality.  Among the many New Mexican artists, he probably achieved the closest relationship with the Indians, breaking through their natural reserve with patience and understanding.

Through his intercession with the Government, the "sacred mountain" of the Taos Pueblo Indians was protected from prospectors, and when the great forest lands were made a national preserve, it was Bert Phillips who named them "the Kit Carson National Forest."  In December 1970, the title to a vast preserve was returned to the Indians.

Phillips died in San Diego, California, in 1956-- three years after the death of his wife.

REFERENCES:

Benezit, E. Dictionnaire Critique...Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs...Temps.  Paris: Librarie Grund, 1976.  10 Volumes.

Bickerstaff, Laura M.  Pioneer Artists of Taos.  Denver: Old West Publishing Company, 1983.

Coke, Van Deren.  Taos and Santa Fe: The Artist's Environment, 1882-1942.  Albuquerque, New Mexico: The University of New Mexico Press, 1963.

Dawdy, Doris Ostrander.  Artists of the American West:  A Biographical Dictionary.  [1974] 3 vols.  Chicago: Swallow Press.  1985.

Eldredge, Charles C., et al.  Art in New Mexico: 1900 - 1945.  Paths to Taos and Santa Fe.  New York: Abbeville Press, 1986.

Harmsen, Dorothy.  Harmsen's Western Americana.  Denver, Colorado: Harmsen Publishing Company, 1971.

Mallett, Daniel Trowbridge.  Mallet's Index of Artists.  New York: Peter Smith, 1948.

Nelson, Mary Carroll.  The Legendary Artists of Taos.  New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1980.

Picturesque Images from Taos and Santa Fe.  The Denver Art Museum, January 12 - March 17, 1974.
 
Robertson, Edna and Sarah Nestor.  Artists of the Canyons and Caminos.  Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, Inc., 1982.

Samuels, Peggy & Harold.  The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West.  Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1976.

Schimmel, Julie and Robert R. White.  Bert Geer Phillips and the Taos Art  Colony. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1994.

White, Robert R.  The Taos Society of Artists.  Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1983.

Witt, David L.  The Taos Artists: A Historical Narrative and Biographical Dictionary.  Colorado Springs: Bernard Ewell Fine Art Publications, 1984.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Hudson, New York, at the age of fifteen, he began five years of study in New York City at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design. He spent several years painting professionally in New York, and in 1894 went to England and then to Paris where he attended the Academie Julian and met artists Joseph Henry Sharp and Ernest Blumenschein, who would become lifetime friends.

Sharp told them about the opportunities of painting around Taos, New Mexico, and in the summer of 1898, Phillips and Blumenschein met in Denver to sketch in the Rocky Mountains. In the autumn, they bought a team and wagon and went South with the idea of going to Mexico, but the wheel on their wagon broke. Phillips stayed behind and Blumenschein went for help to the nearest blacksmith, who was in Taos. Both men were so taken with the scenery, they abandoned their Mexico trip and rented studios in Taos. Phillips stayed on, but Blumenschein returned to New York and continued for many years to travel back and forth.

Phillips was the key, founding figure in what became known at the Taos Art Colony, and early members officially formed the Taos Society of Artists. Because there were no galleries then in Taos, they displayed their art work to tourists from their studios and worked to get attention from other parts of the county.

By 1915, over 100 artists where working there. Phillips sent his work East for exhibition with Blumenschein but rarely left Taos although occasionally he painted in Arizona and other surrounding Southwestern States. He married Miss Rose Martin, sister of the famous local doctor, "Doc Martin" who was a popular personality with visitors.

Modernist art went by Phillips, whose subjects were Taos Pueblo Indians, done in realistic style but conveyed romantically, often with "props" from Phillips extensive collection of Indian artifacts. He was especially fascinated by their colorful dress and daily activities. His failing eyesight caused him to give up painting completely, but the vivid, colorful paintings he created gave a special lasting view of Pueblo life.
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Born in Hudson, New York, Bert Phillips displayed his artistic talents early, winning art prizes as a child. He trained formally at the New York City Art Students League and the National Academy of Design, maintaining a studio in the city as well. In 1894 he moved to England to work on his watercolor landscapes. The next year he studied in Paris at the Julien Academy where he met Ernest Blumenschein and Joseph Sharp.

In 1897, he was back in New York City sharing an apartment with his new friend, E. L. Blumenschein. The following year the two artists made a sketching trip to Colorado and through a series of events they landed in Taos, New Mexico. Phillips decided to stay in Taos having fallen in love with the land. He became the first permanent resident artist and the key founder of the Taos Society of Art formally founded in 1912.

Source: Thomas Nygard Gallery

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Hudson, NY on July 15, 1868. Phillips began painting in his childhood and later studied in NYC at the ASL and NAD and in Paris at Académie Julian under Laurens and Constant. A magazine commission took him to Taos, NM in 1898 and he elected to remain. He died in San Diego, CA on June 16, 1956. Exh: Calif.-Pacific Int'l Art Expo (San Diego), 1935.
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Ferdinand Perret Files; Artists of the American West (Samuels).
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 The Owings Gallery:
Bert G. Phillips was the first of the early Taos artists to settle permanently in the remote mountain village, thus he is rightfully considered the founder of the Taos art colony. When Phillips first laid eyes of Taos in 1898 while traveling with his good friend Ernest Blumenschein, he knew immediately that Taos was to be his home. From that moment, he worked tirelessly to bring other artists to Taos, to make it possible for them to stay there, and to promote the idea of an art colony.

Of the individuals who formed the Taos Society of Artists, Phillips was the one most deeply involved in his personal life with the town and pueblo, and never lost his romantic view of Taos. According to Blumenschein, “Phillips is the foundation on which the Taos group built!” (El Palacio, May 1926)

The West captured Phillips’ imagination early in his life when he found an arrowhead, lost by a Mohegan Indian. Kit Carson was the artist’s boyhood hero. His mental imagery was created by the books of James Fenimore Cooper. Before he ever saw the West, Phillips enjoyed a successful career painting western illustrations. His models were a half-Sioux and cowboys which he painted in western landscapes invented from research. It was natural for him to become infatuated by the West when he finally saw it.

By the time Phillips discovered Taos he was thirty years old, and a well-trained artist who no longer felt the need for European academies. At the age of sixteen he left his home in Hudson, New York for five years of study at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design. Afterwards he spent several years in New York painting and producing commercial illustrations. In 1894 he painted in England then moved on to Paris where he later met Blumenschein and Joseph Sharp, who first informed him of the unique light and abundant subject matter in Taos.

In the summer of 1915, Phillips along with Blumenschein, Couse, Sharp, Berninghaus, and Dunton joined to form the now famous Taos Society of Artists. At the time, Taos had no commercial galleries, nor many tourists, and it was felt that traveling group exhibitions would attract attention and sales in other parts of the country. The TSA was an instant success. The shows traveled to all the major art cities in America and received enormous publicity throughout the country. Replacements for sold pictures were being crated up and shipped out of Taos every week.The Taos Society was particularly helpful to Phillips since he was not a savvy businessman, nor did he possess a willingness to “compete” in the art market with the same fervor as some other artists.

For a time he sent small Indian portraits, excellently painted in the tradition of the masters, to his New York dealer. But her received only $50 for them while the dealer resold them for $500; one was even bought by Frederic Remington. Had he traveled more to the major art cities he could have rectified his situation, however he was too content to remain in Taos, truly enamored with his own rural, “western” lifestyle - the kind he had romanticized about as a boy.

Although Phillips’ creativity was grounded in realism, it was a realism colored by his romantic ideals. His style has been described as lyrical and sweet, reflecting his feelings of identification with his Indian theme, and contentment. Philips viewed the Indian as a classic symbol representing innocence, grace, and purity, and he captured the color and appeal of his subjects with charm and obvious affection.

Bert Phillips remained in Taos until shortly before his death in 1956. He devoted much of his life to an art based on the figure, rooted in nature, which expressed in a style that was neither ambiguous nor extreme the visual appeal of the local environment. After all, it was his environment that inspired his art. As the artist himself proclaimed, “Nothing could be more natural than that a distinctive American art idea should develop on a soil so richly imbued with romance, history and scenic beauty as is to be found in the far famed beautiful Taos Valley and the poetic Indian Village of the Taos Pueblos.”

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery Santa FeTucson:
Bert Geer Phillips was born in Hudson, New York and trained in fine art at the Art Students’ League in New York City. He was a dedicated artist even as a young man, and constantly sought out new instructors and material in order to hone his talents as a academic realist. He studied at the Julian Academy in Paris, where he met Ernest Blumenschein and J.H. Sharp. Sharp spoke passionately about the landscape and peoples of the New Mexico pueblos, urging the two younger artists to travel to the southwest in order to find natural inspiration for their art.

They took his advice and, in 1898, Phillips and Blumenschein planned what is now one of the most fateful painting trips in the history of American art. Starting in Denver, the two artists planned to travel by wagon all the way through New Mexico into Mexico. Outside of Taos, however, the wagon lost a wheel, and Blumenschein traveled into Taos alone to find a blacksmith. He returned excited by the landscape and city and, upon arriving in Taos, Phillips decided that he would not only modify the trip to include Taos, but he would move to Taos permanently to paint. At the time, there were no white artists operating in the region, and Phillips and Blumenschein displayed their work out of their studios. This studio viewing became a major draw for white tourists in Taos, and continues to be an enduring element of New Mexico art culture.

Blumenschein eventually went back to New York, though he would return often for the rest of his life. Phillips stayed, developing his own work and serving as the de facto founder of the Taos Society of Artists, the central group in the arts scene in Taos. By 1915, there were more than a hundred artists working in Taos, a testament to the natural beauty of the land but also, in a large part, to the tenacity with which Phillips clung to the notion of Taos as a potential arts hotspot, an egalitarian collective of some of the finest academic and non-academic painters in the country.

Phillips’ own work was varied, but the primary focus was on figurative pieces of the people of the New Mexico pueblos. His style never bent towards the modernist vein of work being practiced by some of his fellow artists. Instead, he grew his knowledge of the dress and customs of the natives and painted them in romantic surrounds, often by firelight. The strain on his eyes was considerable, and he began to lose his vision. Eventually he would be forced to stop painting because of this vision loss, but not before he completed several major mural commissions, including that of the Polk County Courthouse in Iowa.

Phillips passed away in 1956, leaving behind a significant contribution to one of the most important and distinctly American art movements in history.

Biography from Nedra Matteucci Galleries:
BERT G. PHILLIPS (1868-1956)

In 1898, Bert Phillips became the first permanent Anglo artist of Taos and in so doing set an example that many others would soon follow.

In his youth, Phillips took a serious interest in art, once winning first prize for a collection of watercolors entered at a county fair. He began training at New York City's Art Students League and, around the same time, at the National Academy of Design, where he won the Bronze Medal in life class. After his studies, Phillips set up his own studio in New York and painted there for the next five years. His actual goal was to become an accomplished easel painter. Phillips traveled to England and Paris for further study, and after his return to New York he made the search for American subjects a priority. His imagination was fired by that most American subject of all, the Indian.

Joseph Sharp had told Phillips (and Ernest Blumenschein) about Taos in 1895 while they studied art in the Paris academies. As Phillips knew, Kit Carson had lived in Taos and was the embodiment of its romantic reputation. Starting from Denver, Phillips and Blumenschein intended to spend the summer painting the landscape south to Mexico. Somewhere north of Taos their wagon fell into a rut, and Blumenschein took a broken wagon wheel to Taos for repair. In the mean time, both were permanently smitten by Taos.

In 1915, Phillips joined five of his artists, including Ernest Blumenschein, Joseph Sharp, Irving Couse, Oscar Berninghaus and Herbert Dunton, to form the Taos Society of Artists. There were no contemporary art museums, galleries or art dealers in the West when the Taos Society began. Another Taos artist, Kenneth Adams, wrote that the key element in the artistic success of Phillips and his contemporaries was the genuine love they felt for Taos.

During the Depression, when painting sales slowed, Phillips painted murals in Iowa, Arizona and Missouri. In Taos, he joined Victor Higgins, Ward Lockwood and Emil Bisttram to produce murals for the new county courthouse. Phillips, however, made his reputation in oil paintings, not murals.

In addition to his well-known Native American and Spanish-American subjects, his forest scenes come as close to lyrical perfection as any Taos artist's work of his time. Phillips epitomizes the romanticism which those first Taos artists all displayed at one point or another during their long careers. He remained utterly faithful to what may be fairly termed Academic Romanticism, a combining of traditional European academic training with a romantic interpretation of life emphasizing the beautiful and the idyllic through art.


Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, V:
Bert Phillips made up his mind to stay in Taos the first day that he arrived on a visit.  He lived and worked there for nearly sixty years, never tiring of what he described as “the romance of this great pure-aired land that makes the most lasting impression on my mind and heart.”

Phillips was born in Hudson, New York, but eventually moved to New York City where he studied at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design.  In 1894, he journeyed to England and painted in the countryside, before going on to Paris to enroll in the Julian Academy.  There he met his lifelong friend Ernest Blumenschein, and they returned to America and shared a studio in New York.

In 1898, Phillips traveled to New Mexico.  He was initially drawn to Taos because his boyhood hero, Kit Carson, was buried there.  Instead, he became entranced with the stark, wild beauty of the region.  He was determined to study the Pueblo people and their environment before much of it was forever altered.  Phillips was instrumental in the creation of the Taos Forest Preserve, which headed off the destruction of much of the valuable timber around the Pueblo.  In 1908, as a result of the artist’s efforts, the area was designated as the Carson National Forest.

Phillips became acquainted with many Indians, from older warriors who had known Kit Carson to younger subjects who posed for him in forests or by the light of a fire inside a pueblo room.  The artist’s work as a forest ranger had been necessary because of the circumstances of eyestrain from painting in too many darkened rooms and flickering firelight.  This may have influenced several of his dramatic compositions, with the contrasting tension of color and shadow.  His work clearly reflects a romantic concept of the Indian, without becoming overly sentimental in feeling.
 

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

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Beverly Hills:
Burt Geer Phillips was born in Hudson, New York, in 1868. In 1883 he began five years study at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design in New York, where he found work as an artist following his training. Opting for more schooling, Phillips left in 1894 for London and Paris, where he met the artist Joseph Henry Sharp and Ernest Blumenschein.

Sharp never missed an opportunity to share tales of Taos, New Mexico, and in 1898, Phillips and Blumenschein bought a wagon and headed west. When their wagon broke near Taos, the men ended their trek and rented studios in the town. Though Blumenschein eventually went back east, Phillips stayed on, and was a founding member of the Taos Art Colony.

Phillips was a collector of Native American artifacts. Pieces from his collection would often appear in his vivid, semi-romantic paintings of the Southwest.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Bert Phillips is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Paris Pre 1900
Taos Pre 1940
Western Painters



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