E. Martin Hennings, Beneath Clouded Skies, about 1922. Oil on canvas

Explore the Blue Skies, Dramatic Cloudscapes & Earthy Colors of A Place in the Sun

If you’ve spent any time in the Midwest or northern Europe, then you know how gray it can get during different times of the year, particularly in winter. (I am a native Omahan so speak from experience!) Now, imagine yourself transported to the American Southwest. Picture it: bright blue skies, dramatically changing cloudscapes, earthy colors of the countryside, and adobe architecture. A place like Taos, New Mexico, occupies just the right latitude and longitude to bask in a unique quality of light and distinctive natural palette, throughout the year.

When artists Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings ventured to New Mexico, they were struck by its vibrancy and just how different the setting was from Chicago, where they had established their careers, and Munich, where they had trained to be artists. Like many artists who moved there in the first half of the twentieth century, they found the area–its landscape, people, colors and light–the perfect subject for painting.

Every spot and corner is a picture….

– Walter Ufer

They arrived as fully matured artists, but not impervious to new sources of inspiration. In the exhibition A Place in the Sun: The Southwest Paintings of Walter Ufer & E. Martin Hennings, visitors can explore the impact and inspiration of their surroundings in the “Southwest portfolios” placed at various seating areas in the gallery. The slim, bound booklets feature side-by-side details of Ufer and Hennings’s paintings to cue the eye to the each artist’s approach to depicting the people and scenery of Taos.

Paintings and paint colors from Sherwin Williams
Image: Southwest portfolios designed by Rachel Olson Design.

Take, for example, the new vibrancy of their palettes in New Mexico, a result of their arrival in the sun-drenched, light-filled and culturally diverse locale. Gone are the dark, muted hues of their Munich paintings. Instead, reds, earth tones, yellows, sky blues and other lively colors quickly dominated their canvases.

Paintings and paint colors from Sherwin Williams
Image: E. Martin Hennings, European City Night Scene, 1912-1915. Oil on canvas. New Mexico Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. E. Martin Hennings, 1979 (1979.63.5) E. Martin Hennings, The Rabbit Hunt, about 1925. Oil on canvas. Denver Art Museum. The William Sr. and Dorothy Harmsen Collection (2001.44).

We had a grand time inputting images of their paintings into the Sherwin-Williams online “Snap It” tool, which transforms a picture into a palette with Sherwin-William paint colors. (Hint: you can and should do this at home with your own jpegs…it’s addictive!)

Speaking of color, we often think about shadows as being pure black, but like the impressionists, Ufer and Hennings’ shadows are anything but. If you look closely you’ll notice a rainbow of colors in these fields of shadow. Blues, greens, grays and pinks intermingle to create a deliciously colorful effect of darkness.

Example of shadows painted by Walter Ufer
Image: Walter Ufer, Taos Plaza, New Mexico, 1917. Oil on canvas. Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma (0137.50).

Want to explore more? Head to the exhibition and make yourself comfortable in the gallery with one of these portfolios. A quick browse through its pages and a closer look at the artists’ paintings will reveal much more about their process and sources of inspiration.

Molly Medakovich is a teaching specialist for adult programs in the learning and engagement department at the Denver Art Museum. Molly has been at the DAM since 2012, and her favorite painting in the collection is Gustave Doré’s The Family of Street Acrobats: the Injured Child.

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