DescriptionERNEST MARTIN HENNINGS (American, 1886-1956)
Cabins in the Blue Hills
Oil on board
14 x 14 inches (35.6 x 35.6 cm)
Signed lower right: E.M. Hennings
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF JUDSON C. AND NANCY SUE BALL
The aspen groves of New Mexico, dazzling in fall shades of yellow, gold, and red, provided a favorite landscape subject for the Taos Society of Artists. Where Ernest Blumenschein and E. I. Couse utilized aspens as a vibrant backdrop for Pueblo Indians hiking or riding horses, other members like Victor Higgins were drawn to the distinctive, "graphic" appearance of the trees that befit modernist compositions: slender, tall parallel tree trunks, flattened leaves branching in dense clumps high on the trunk, and white bark with dramatic black knots and grooves.
Like his close friends Victor Higgins and Walter Ufer, Ernest Martin Hennings came to Taos by way of the Munich School, Chicago, and the patronage of Chicago's former mayor, the art collector Carter H. Harrison, Jr. In 1924, Hennings joined the Taos Society of Artists and quickly developed his signature painting style: colorful, patterned, and poetic scenes of sensitively rendered Pueblo Indians communing with nature. Aspen forests were Hennings' choice setting for these tapestry-like paintings, where Indians on horseback "weave" in and out of tree trunks, becoming part of the overall natural fabric of woodlands, mountains, and sky.
Cabins in the Blue Hills illustrates Hennings' fondness for identifying rich colors and patterns in nature. Here, a screen of aspens with red-pink winter foliage divides a cluster of cabins in snow from the background Sangre de Cristo Mountains, lush with cobalt and navy fir trees. Hennings plays with patterning through parallel lines - the horizontal logs in the cabins, diagonal sheets of snow on the cabin roofs, and vertical lines of the aspen trunks - and through the brushwork of the blue fir trees, where alternating long and short vertical bands create a woven effect. The brilliance of Hennings' colors is attributed to his precise method of applying thin layers of oil paint and allowing each to dry completely before varnishing. Compositionally, Cabins in the Blue Hills references Victor Higgins' Cabin in the Aspens (c. 1922-23, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame) and may depict the very same subject: the homestead of the local businessman Benjamin G. Randall, who regularly hosted Taos artists, allowing them to use his property for painting expeditions.
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