Oscar Berninghaus, Solitude
Oscar Berninghaus, Solitude, ca. 1910, oil on canvas
Oscar Berninghaus (1874-1952)
Solitude, ca. 1910, oil on canvas
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri - St. Louis

St. Louis native Oscar Berninghaus began his art career learning the lithography trade at the age of sixteen. This training emphasized drawing skills that would serve the artist well throughout his career. Berninghaus also took classes at the Washington University School of Fine Arts, and in 1899, with a growing reputation in St. Louis as an illustrator, he received a commission from the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad to travel west on their trains and produce artwork that would attract tourist trade to the railroad and the west. Over the course of this trip, Berninghaus spent a week in Taos, where the artist became infatuated with the scenery, the people, and the unique quality of light that brought everything to life. He began spending summers in Taos and in 1913 he banded together with five other artists to form the Taos Society as a means of promoting their artwork through traveling exhibitions. The Society was a success, and Berninghaus’ reputation as a painter of western life was assured.

Throughout his career Berninghaus depicted America's native peoples with a respectful honesty and a frank admiration. He appears to have realized the historical importance of recording these lives accurately to preserve them for the education of future generations. Even so, considering the late date of this painting, it is clear that Berninghaus occasionally looked back at the lives of Native Americans through a lense tinted with romanticism and nostalgia. The calm, quiet composition, and the peacefully floating canoe speak more to the better times past than to the conditions for Native Americans in 1910.

Expand Your Horizons Click here to learn more about the Taos School.