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  • Walter Ufer
    Jul 22, 1876 - Aug 02, 1936
  • A Ride in Autumn - 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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A Ride in Autumn
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  • A Ride in Autumn

  • Walter Ufer
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  • Oil on canvas
    Private collection, Texas.

    When the 38-year-old painter Walter Ufer first arrived in Taos in 1914, he finally discovered the subject that would bring him national acclaim: the Pueblo Indian. In Taos, Ufer reconnected with his Académie Julian fellow students Ernest Blumenschein and Joseph Henry Sharp, two of the founding members of the Taos Society of Artists that Ufer would officially join in 1917. Where Blumenschein specialized in the New Mexican landscape, and Sharp, in portraits of Indians in traditional ceremonial dress, Ufer focused on genre scenes of the modern-day Indian. His longtime affiliation with the Socialist Party made him especially attuned to opportunities for the laboring class, and, accordingly, his new art celebrated the Taos Indian at work. Ufer explained, "I paint the Indian as he is. In the garden digging--in the field working--riding among the sage--meeting his woman in the desert-angling for trout-in meditation. . . . I believe that if America gets a national art, it will come more from the Southwest. . . . We live a happy life here, with Indians daily at our table" (T. Smith, ed., A Place in the Sun: The Southwest Paintings of Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings, Norman, Oklahoma, 2016, p. 151).

    Elevating women and men alike, Ufer's early paintings monumentalize women carrying pots of water, baking bread in outdoor adobe ovens, or guarding the entrance to the pueblo, and men, planting gardens, harvesting corn, saddling up for an excursion, or resting after a hot day in the sun. Borrowing from the realist, or "psychological," type of portraiture he had studied at the Munich Academy, Ufer has many of his subjects gaze directly at the viewer, extending an invitation into their everyday activities, or at least positioning themselves as equals. His concept for a new American art rested not on the stereotype of the Indians as a vanishing people, but rather on the reality of their contemporary experiences. He stated in an interview, "The Indian is not a fantastic figure. He resents being regarded as a curiosity--as a dingleberry on a tree. He is intelligent and a good businessman. He reads the good magazines and newspapers, and he is quick to challenge any false statement about himself or his life" (Smith, p. 147). Ufer's interpretation of the modern Indian garnered him numerous exhibition awards back East, and between 1916-26, major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., acquired his works for their collections.

    Ufer's numerous paintings of the Taos Indian Jim Mirabal, his favorite model and close friend, demonstrate his method of blending psychological realism and inventive design. As early as 1918, and throughout the 1920s, he depicted Jim with his signature chiseled face and long braids in a variety of guises as a gardener, musician, and transporter of goods, sometimes on horseback and frequently with his daughter. A Ride in Autumn exemplifies Ufer's portraits of Jim from the 1920s, which helped him achieve his vision for a national art. Ufer presents Jim as a contemporary Taos resident, dressed in store-bought boots, khaki pants, denim shirt, and cowboy hat, rather than as a stereotyped Indian in ceremonial garb. Jim engages the viewer directly with a serious look and from an elevated position on his chestnut horse, connoting his authority. Ufer offsets this intense psychological profile of Jim with the brilliant, sun-drenched setting. A master of design, he also contrasts the more monochromatic passages of Jim's clothing and the horse's coat with the intricately patterned screen of yellow aspens and the mottled, shadowed ground. In turn, the flattened bands of turquoise sky and cerulean Sangre de Christo Mountains in the background heighten the lacy effect of the aspens. Ufer's alla prima technique, creating a sensation of movement, is especially visible in the gestural, impastoed tree leaves. Together, the fluttering leaves, shifting shadows, and walking horse make the composition dynamic. While recalling a favorite subject of his friend and colleague E. Martin Hennings--Indians on horseback weaving in and out of aspen trees--Ufer's A Ride in Autumn is not idealized or universalized. Rather, true to his progressive philosophy, it employs a modernist idiom to capture a present-day American.

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Other paintings by Walter Ufer:

The Solemn Pledge Taos Indians
The Solemn Pledge Taos Indians
A Pueblo Well Scene
A Pueblo Well Scene
A Singer
A Singer
A Singing Indian
A Singing Indian
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.