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In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein

November 8, 2008 - February 8, 2009


Celebrating the life and art of perhaps New Mexico's most accomplished painter, In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein provides a comprehensive view of the artist's colorful and inventive works. One of the founders of the famed Taos Society of Artists, Blumenschein rocketed into the spotlight with his modernist approach to capturing the American West. Featuring 66 pieces created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the show includes major paintings, sketches and illustrations. The exhibition opens November 8 at the Denver Art Museum (DAM) and continues through February 8, 2009. (right: Afternoon of a Sheepherder, 1939. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City; 1976.32)

"This exhibition is the largest and most comprehensive effort ever made to assemble, analyze and celebrate Blumenschein's remarkable work," said Peter H. Hassrick, Director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art and co-curator of the exhibition. "It features masterworks by the artist, revealing his daring aesthetic, his proto-modernist style, his social sensitivities and his influence on regional as well as national trends in art."

Credited as one of the champions of Western American art, Blumenschein was drawn to the West initially by boyhood fantasies of exploration and adventure. The artist found the landscape transformative and exotic, writing soon after his arrival in Taos, "I saw whole paintings right before my eyes Everywhere I looked, I saw paintings perfectly organized and ready to paint." With his inclination toward modernism, Blumenschein expressed what he saw in bold color and form using a daring color palette and sophisticated style. Whether painting a piercing blue sky or a Pueblo Indian garbed in rainbow hues, he ignited his canvas with light and emotion.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pa., Blumenschein was raised by his father, a professional musician and director of the Dayton Philharmonic Society. After initial studies at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and Art Students League of New York, the artist attended the Académie Julian in Paris. Following his initial formal training, he worked as a professional illustrator.

Blumenschein stumbled across Taos as the result of a fortunate accident. He was traveling with fellow artist Bert G. Phillips on a sketching trip from Denver to northern Mexico when a wheel of their carriage broke, leaving them stranded in Taos Valley. The delay gave the artists time to take in the spectacular countryside and interesting cultures of the area. They decided to stay and work in the area, founding the Taos Society of Artists to promote the splendor of Taos and the art of the American West to larger audiences. The society formed a blossoming art colony in the Taos area that continues in spirit today. (left: Star Road and White Sun, 1920. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of The Albuquerque Museum, Museum purchase, 1985 General Obligation Bonds, Albuquerque High School Collection, Gift of classes 1943, 1944, and 1945; 1986.50.3)

The exhibition follows Blumenschein's life, tracking the artistic, social and political dimensions of his art. It begins with his lively illustrations and continues with early paintings of the West and his favorite subject, Pueblo Indians. As Blumenschein developed as an artist, he also developed a stance on social issues that included pictorial testimonials on the cultural integrity of the native people of Taos and respect for their lands.

A diverse offering of programs surrounds the exhibition. An adult studio class will explore painting the Southwest region, allowing participants to draw inspiration from the work of Blumenschein. Family activities include tours and an in-gallery game. A symposium about Blumenschein and Western art is planned for January as part of WinterWest, a premier Western Art celebration sponsored collaboratively with the National Western Stock Show's Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale.

In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein is organized by the Denver Art Museum, Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the Phoenix Art Museum. This exhibition is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Albuquerque Museum Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation and the Western Art Associates of the Phoenix Art Museum.

The exhibition will be on view in the Gallagher Family Gallery at the Denver Art Museum from November 8, 2008 through February 8, 2009, and is included with general admission. (right: Portrait of Albedia, ca. 1918, by Ernest L. Blumenschein. Oil on canvas; 20 x 16 in. Courtesy of the Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico.)


Biography of Ernest L. Blumenschein (1874-1960)

Ernest L. Blumenschein was perhaps one of the most famous residents of Taos, New Mexico, when he passed away in 1960. Born in Pittsburgh, PA., in 1874, Blumenschein was destined for a life full of art, music and success. The son of an accomplished professional musician, Blumenschein excelled in music performance and won a scholarship to study at the Cincinnati College of Music at age 17. While attending the College of Music, he enrolled at the Art Academy and it was there that he discovered his true passion for visual art.

Blumenschein moved to New York City to study painting at the Art Students League. Although he was able to support himself as an accomplished violinist, he soon left the city for the opportunity to study academic figure painting at the Académie Julian in Paris. While in Paris, he met three artists who would become lifelong friends -- Bert Phillips, E. Irving Couse and Joseph Henry Sharp.

In 1896, Blumenschein returned to New York and began a successful career as a periodical and book illustrator. He worked for magazines such as Harper's and McClure's and illustrated books for well-known authors including Jack London and Joseph Conrad.

In 1898, Blumenschein and Phillips set out on a fateful sketching trip from Denver to Mexico. A broken wagon wheel found them stranded in Taos. The delay gave the artists time to take in the spectacular countryside and cultures of Taos. They decided to stay and work in the area, founding The Taos Society of Artists to promote the splendor of Taos and the art of the American West to larger audiences.

Blumenschein married Mary Shepard Greene, a prominent artist in Paris, and together they moved back to New York. He devoted every summer to his own work in Taos, painting works such as The Peacemaker and Albedia. By 1919, he was able to relocate his family to Taos and break all ties with his commercial career.

During his lifetime he received countless awards for his work, was honored by many institutions and was invited to travel the world to exhibit his work. His masterpiece, Jury for Trial of a Sheepherder for Murder, won a National Arts Club Medal in 1938. Ten years later, he was honored with the first one-man retrospective exhibition ever held at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. Blumenschein left a legacy as an artist and intellectual of boundless enthusiasm and extremely high standards.


1874 - Born in Pittsburgh, Pa.

1891 - Received violin scholarship at the Music Academy of Cincinnati

1892 - Enrolled in the Art Academy of Cincinnati

1892 - Moved to New York to attend classes at Art Students League

1894 - Studied at the Académie Julian in Paris

1896 - Began a successful career in New York City as a periodical and book illustrator

1897 - Made first trip to Southwest

1898 - Wagon broke down in Taos, NM, while traveling with Bert G. Phillips from Denver to Mexico on a sketching trip

1899 - Resumed studies in Paris; developed scheme to establish artist and writer colony in Taos

1904 - Illustrated Love of Life by Jack London

1905 - Married Mary Shepard Greene, prominent artist in Paris at the time

1909 - Returned to New York

1910 - Elected as Associate Academician at the National Academy of Design, and was devoting nine months of the year to commercial art in New York and three months to his own work in Taos

1913 - Painted The Peacemaker

1915 - Became a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists

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; won Potter Palmer Gold Medal, Art Institute of Chicago

1918 - Painted Portrait of Albedia

1920 - Moved to Taos with wife and daughter; painted Star Road and White Sun

1927 - Elected Academician at the National Academy of Design; painted The Extraordinary Affray

1933 - Became founding member of Heptagon Gallery, first Taos gallery dedicated to modernist art

1936 - Painted his masterpiece, Jury for Trial of a Sheepherder for Murder

1937 - Painted Ourselves and Taos Neighbors

1939 - Painted Afternoon of a Sheepherder

1948 - Honored with the first New Mexico artist retrospective exhibition at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe

1956 - Painted The Chief Goes Through; elected honorary member of New Mexico Art League

1958 - Museum of New Mexico sponsored second Blumenschein retrospective in Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces

1960 - Died in Albuquerque, N.M.

1966 - Ernest L. Blumenschein home was designated as a National Historic Landmark


(above: Haystack, Taos Valley, prior to 1927, reworked 1940, by Ernest L. Blumenschein. Oil on canvas; 24 x 27 in. Courtesy of Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman; Given in memory of Roxanne P. Thams by William H. Thams, 2003)


(above: The Extraordinary Affray (Indian Battle, 1920), reworked 1927, by Ernest L. Blumenschein. Oil on canvas; 50 x 60 in. Courtesy of Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas; 31.30/13)

About Peter H. Hassrick, co-curator of the exhibition and Director for the Petrie Institute of Western American Art, Denver Art Museum

Peter H. Hassrick, a leading scholar in the field of Western American art, is the director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum. The Institute was established in 2001, and Hassrick joined the Museum as its director in 2005. With more than 35 years of experience in the field of Western American art, Hassrick helps lead the research and refinement of the Denver Art Museum's Western American art collections, exhibitions, programs and publications. Under Hassrick's leadership, the Institute prominently features its collection on the second floor of the Museum's new Frederic C. Hamilton Building. (left: Peter H. Hassrick, Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum)

Before coming to Denver, Hassrick focused his career on writing and acting as an independent American art scholar specializing in art of the American West. He is the Founding Director Emeritus of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. He was also the founding director of The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., and was the director of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo., for 20 years.

Hassrick was born in Philadelphia and raised in Denver. He earned a B.A. in history from the University of Colorado and a M.A. in art history from the University of Denver, with a concentration in 19th-century and early 20th-century American art. Hassrick's devotion to the history and art of the American West has inspired numerous exhibitions, lectures and publications and a television documentary on Remington produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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