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  • Walter Ufer
    Jul 22, 1876 - Aug 02, 1936
  • El Cacique del Pueblo - Walter Ufer was an American artist based in Taos, New Mexico. His most notable work focuses on scenes of Native American life, particularly of the Pueblo Indians. Walter Ufer is known for Social realist landscape, figure, portrait and Indian genre painting.
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El Cacique del Pueblo
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  • El Cacique del Pueblo

  • Walter Ufer
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  • 1916
    Oil on canvas
    30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm.)
    Private collection.

    According to Walter Ufer scholar Dr. Dean A. Porter, "The principle of [the present work] also played a critical role in The Solemn Pledge, Taos Indians, a canvas which earned Ufer the First Logan Prize winner in the The Art Institute's 1916 29th Annual Exhibition of American Painters and Sculptors. Furthermore, both paintings hung on the same wall in the exhibition. Historically, the Spanish word cacique [cah-thee'-kay] has assumed several meanings, i.e. 'local political boss,' 'the chief,' 'a prince or nobleman among the Indians,' even 'petty tyrant.' However, in this painting, El Cacique is Spanish for 'spiritual leader' of Taos Pueblo. This individual held an important position of leadership at Taos Pueblo. Whereas the governor served as the administrative liaison between the pueblo and the outside world, according to Keresan tradition, the 'spiritual leader' had been appointed by departing gods as an officer to oversee the religious activities of the community, to maintain social and communal order." (unpublished letter, December 22, 2009, p. 3)

    Ufer was captivated by the local Pueblo tribe of Taos, and they became the subjects of most of his works, though not as stereotypical 'Indians' carrying out primordial rituals. He recognized that these were a people conflicted by changing times; though they were connected to their historical roots, they were constantly being pulled towards the modern age. Ufer, a staunch Socialist, joined the Pueblo in their struggle, participating in their labor strikes and protests. In his paintings, even this one of a tribe leader, the Pueblo are depicted in an unembellished, matter-of-fact way. Porter explains, "Had another member of the Taos Society of Artists painted the Taos Pueblo El Cacique, concerted efforts would have been made to romanticize him. But, this was not Ufer's approach. Following his training in Dresden and the advice of his patron, former Chicago Mayor Carter H. Harrison, Jr., Ufer brought a high degree of objectively to his paintings, in this case, a brutal frankness. This is apparent in some of the artist's most important works, notably the one-legged tailor and musician represented in two paintings Don Pedro de Taos and Fiddler of Taos [formerly Brooklyn Museum of Art and private collection], Hunger [Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa], and Strange Things [collection Nedra Matteucci, Santa Fe]. All are difficult paintings with deep, profound messages. El Cacique del Pueblo joins this group of Ufer icons." (unpublished letter, p. 2)

    The present work was originally purchased for $400 around 1919 by Emil Eitel, an owner of the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago and a member of the syndicate that sponsored Ufer's stay in Taos from 1914-16. According to Porter, "Ufer and the Eitels were close family friends. While Emil Eitel may not have been Ufer's biggest buyer, he was active. From surviving Ufer records, the Eitels acquired Head of Tirolian Child, painted in 1912, and Sodoma-Taos and The Lone Rider as well as El Cacique, all painted in 1916." (unpublished letter, December 22, 2009, pp. 4-5)

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Other paintings by Walter Ufer:

December Morn
December Morn
Desert Mountain
Desert Mountain
End of a Perfect Day
End of a Perfect Day
Fantasies (Fantasien)
Fantasies (Fantasien)
Walter UferWalter Ufer was born in Huckeswagen, Germany. At the age of four, Ufer moved with his family to Louisville, Kentucky, where he grew up. His father was a master gunsmith noted for his fine engraving work. Though Ufer's formal education did not extend beyond grammar school, his promising artistic talent led his father to apprentice him to a commercial lithographer. At age seventeen, Ufer followed his mentor to Germany, working as a journeyman printer and engraver. He soon decided to pursue a career as a painter and enrolled in the Royal Applied Art School and the Royal Academy, both in Dresden.

By 1899 Ufer had returned to the United States to settle in Chicago. He continued his studies at the Art Institute while supporting himself as a commercial lithographer and engraver. In 1911 he married a Danish-born artist, Mary Fredericksen. The couple returned to Europe for two years, traveling extensively and studying with Walter Thor in Munich.

After returning to Chicago in 1914, Ufer, along with fellow artist Victor Higgins, was commissioned by art patron Carter Harrison to paint at Taos. Both men were captivated by the little village and decided to stay. They were invited to join the Taos Society of Artists and became full members in 1917. Though the Ufers travelled extensively, Taos was their home until Ufer's untimely death in 1936.

By all accounts, Ufer was a colorful personality. He was a generous, outspoken man with a sensitive social conscience. During the flu epidemic of 1919, he worked day and night alongside the town's only doctor, ministering to the sick.

Ufer was the first New Mexico artist to win a prize at the Carnegie International. Included among his other numerous awards are the Chicago Art Institutes's First Logan Prize, the Isidor Gold Medal, the Pennsylvania Academy's Temple Gold Medal and the National Academy of Design's Altman Prize, which he won twice. Ufer's brilliant, boldly painted compositions are distinctive images of the Taos Indian surrounded by the magnificent landscape of the region.