Aspens, Early Autumn, Taos
Aspens, Early Autumn, Taos
Berninghaus, Oscar E.
Oil on canvas
25 1/8 x 30 1/8 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Gift of the Estate of Mrs. George M. Brown
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
This brilliant landscape scene depicts the forested mountains in the high country near Taos, New Mexico, where St. Louis artist Oscar Berninghaus loved to camp during the summers, he spent in Taos from 1899 until his death. With its depiction of intense light passing through the fluttering golden leaves of aspen trees to spill upon the ground in patterns of white gold spots and red ochre shadows, the image functions both as specific description and sacred icon. Berninghaus, one of the founding members of the Taos Society of Artists, 1915–27, believed as firmly as his colleagues in the regenerative power of the rugged environment and diverse cultures of the American Southwest.
Berninghaus and fellow artists of the Taos Society, Ernest Blumenschein, E. Irving Couse, Herbert Dunton, Bert Phillips, and Joseph Henry Sharp went West in the early Twentieth century searching for new subjects—different from European tradition and the artifice of the Aesthetic school—and experience that would reveal an authentic America. Berninghaus expressed this sentiment in numerous letters to friends and colleagues in St. Louis, declaring “We must have American art. I feel that from Taos will come that art.” The arrival of professional artists in the Southwest coincided with the railroad industry’s promotion of the area as an exotic tourist destination and an emerging focus of scientific and literary attention upon the region’s Native American and Hispanic cultures. All these forces combined to create the conception of the land of enchantment emblazed on today’s New Mexico license tags.
Scenic views of aspens in autumn were a favored subject, either as central focus or background to Indian and/or cowboy genre scenes, of all the Taos school. This particular composition is one of the handsomest of its subject recorded by Berninghaus and exhibits his characteristic painterly touch and deft manipulation of light for expressive effect.
This painting entered the Wichita Art Museum as a most welcome gift because it significant example of the style and themes of a talented painter and principal in an important American regionalist school; the work of the Taos Society of Artists exercised particular influence upon the artists and tastes of Wichita.
 Berninghaus quoted by Gordon Sanders, Oscar E. Berninghaus, Taos, New Mexico, Master Painter of American Indians and the Frontier West (New Mexico: Taos Heritage Publishing Company, 1885) 3.