DescriptionErnest Leonard Blumenschein (American, 1874-1960)
Cottonwoods in the Square
Oil on canvas
17-3/4 x 24 inches (45.1 x 61.0 cm)
Signed lower left: EL Blumenschein
PROPERTY FROM A MIDWESTERN INSTITUTION
Ernest Blumenschein's first discovery of Taos was a profound experience, which would continue to inspire the artist throughout his lifetime. Upon first becoming enamored with the artist's enclave, Blumenschein began to divide his time between New York, France, and New Mexico, finally settling in Taos permanently in 1919. A perfectionist, Blumenschein strove to achieve the highest aesthetic ideals, often reworking his canvases over many years in order to attain his desired finished product. Amongst his fundamental principles were the use of color and line to create bold planes of space, as he believed that "lines should be 'rhythmical' and 'masses large' and in 'good proportion.'" Cottonwoods in the Square epitomizes Blumenschein's aesthetic affinities for visual design, modernist principles, and the use of strong vibrant hues. In the present work, the fiery gold of the central Cottonwood trees provides a brilliant contrast with the cool blue and green tones of the landscape backdrop. Delineating these swaths of bright color are the diagonal, crossing lines of adobe-lined streets, filled with colorful figures whose movement echoes the linear movement of the composition.
Blumenschein scholar Peter Hassrick notes that "The Post-Impressionist, deals in 'large, flat masses,' simple, harmonized colors, 'decorative composition,' and 'imaginative' expressions that reflect 'personal feelings'" (P. Hassrick and E. Cunningham, In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein, Norman, Oklahoma, 2009, p. 87). In this masterwork, Blumenschein's figures become unified with nature in visual harmony through the use of lively color and expressive brushwork. Hassrick notes that Blumenschein viewed the "Native people as inseparable parts of the larger scheme of nature. When the artist turned to landscape painting in the 1930s he often integrated Indian subjects and designs into those canvases", (P. Hassrick, p. 7). In addition to being a master of compositional design, Blumenschein was a deeply symbolic painter. In the present work, the principal focus of
the composition is the large golden cottonwood tree that appears to sway majestically in the center of the village. The cottonwood is a profoundly important emblem of the American West. Not only was it one of the first native trees seen by pioneers as they journeyed from East to West, but also, for Native American peoples, this long-living tree held associations with a number of mystical concepts, including the afterlife, the sun, spiritual growth, prayers, blessings, purity, creation, truth, higher communication, hope, and rebirth. The cottonwood also stood as the centerpiece for the Sun Dance, which was among the most spectacular and important native religious ceremonies of the nineteenth century. In Native American culture, the Sun Dance lasted from four to eight days, representing the continuity between life and death, and emphasizing that all elements of nature are intertwined and dependent on one another. Because Blumenschein chose the cottonwood as the central figure of the present work, it could be surmised that for the artist, the iconic tree served also as the symbol of what appears to be a ceremonial procession taking place in the square. It is conceivable that this procession represented Blumenschein's mournful feelings toward the tragic dissipation of Native American culture and peoples from an industrializing American West. In this scene, villagers assemble in the center of the square, with a convoy of automobiles and riders on horseback proceeding toward the gathering. Monumental and glorious, the cottonwood takes center stage both physically and figuratively; a visual symbol of the Southwest, its billowing branches swaying gently in the breeze above the village, representing the unification of all living things under the eternal sun and the Great Spirit.
Unlined canvas; two tiny flakes of loss at center bottom edge; under UV exam, there appears to be no previous restoration. Framed Dimensions 23 X 30 Inches
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