- United States
Theodore Van Soelen, United States
44 in. X 54 in.
Denver Art Museum Collection: William Sr. and Dorothy Harmsen Collection, 2001.1143
Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.
About the Artist
Theodore Van Soelen, known as Soely to his New Mexico pals, was born in Minnesota in 1890. He received traditional, academic-style art training in Minnesota and Pennsylvania, and also traveled through Europe. In 1922 he moved west for health reasons—the arid climate was recommended for his tuberculosis. He worked for the railroad, at a trading post, and as a cowboy before settling his family and building a home and studio in Tesuque [teh-SOO-kay], New Mexico, just outside Santa Fe. He also worked as a portrait painter, illustrator, muralist, and lithographer (print-maker). By the 1930s the demand for his paintings was large enough in the East to permit him to establish a second studio in Connecticut, although his affiliations remained in New Mexico.
What Inspired It
In The Road to Santa Fe, Van Soelen shows a moment in the life of his neighbors, on the road to Santa Fe from Tesuque to sell their wood. He believed that artists should live and work with their subjects, so his neighbors often appeared in his work. They're placed in shadow, are relatively small in the composition, and the woman and child are featureless; the picture is less about them as individuals than about the setting, activities, and mood of their lifestyle. Van Soelen felt that art should be based on discipline and observation. Though he was devoted to the realist tradition, he was also perfectly willing to transport a mountain from one side of a painting to another in order to achieve a more harmonious composition.
The Road to Santa Fe shows a hillside probably near Van Soelen’s home in Tesuque. He brings out the texture, colors, and shapes of the landscape.
The background is darker, the middle ground has bright sun, and the foreground is in shadow. This is the type of scene Van Soelen’s son said he especially liked—sunny with deep blue hills. The way the light falls also creates balance in the composition.
The shaded objects in the foreground—the tree branches, the fence, the donkeys, and the various plants on the ground—frame the right side of the painting.
The cross is tilted and its arms extend along the diagonal line of the sloping ground, causing it to blend in a bit with the road.
The sun is shining in just the right direction to cast shadows along the same diagonal as the road and the cross.
The donkeys all have the same profile, the cross shape is echoed in the nearby cactus shapes, and there are similar fence slats at both sides of the painting.
Quick Classroom Ideas
- We can find numerous repeated shapes and lines in The Road to Santa Fe. The donkeys all have the same profile, the cross shape is echoed in the nearby cactus shapes, and there are similar fence slats at both sides of the painting. The sun is shining in just the right direction to cast shadows along the same diagonal as the road and the cross. Have students look for repeated shapes and lines in your classroom, or go outside and look around the school grounds. Ask students to sketch the various recurring shapes that they find. Back in the classroom, have students draw upon their sketches to create a painting that incorporates repeated shapes and lines.
- Theodore Van Soelen and E. Martin Hennings were both Western artists who painted the people and scenery that they experienced on a personal level. Compare Van Soelen’s The Road to Santa Fe to Hennings’s Rabbit Hunt. How are they similar? How are they different? Theodore Van Soelen believed that artists should live and work with their subjects, so his neighbors often appeared in his work. Hennings would sometimes even make changes to his paintings based on the requests of his subjects. Ask students: How does a familiarity with your subjects give you a different perspective? Think about the people that surround you and the places that you’ve experienced. How would you portray those things? Look at Hennings's Rabbit Hunt.