Ernest Blumenschein, United States
Ernest Blumenschein (BLOOM-en-shine) was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Dayton, Ohio. He traveled west on an assignment for McClure’s magazine in 1897, and visited northern New Mexico a year later, where he was immediately and profoundly inspired. Speaking of the West, Blumenschein said, “I was receiving the first great unforgettable inspiration of my life…I was seeing [nature] for the first time with my own eyes…Everywhere I looked I saw paintings perfectly organized ready for paint.” For two decades, Blumenschein painted in New Mexico every summer, and taught at the Art Student’s League in New York the rest of the year. In 1919 he moved with his family to Taos, devoting himself full time to painting. Along with a man named Bert Phillips, Blumenschein founded the Taos Society of Artists, which was active from 1915–26. The purpose of the Taos Society was to promote, exhibit, and sell its members’ art. It was made up of a group of artists who saw the West as a place of peaceful isolation, and felt a sincere connection to the local landscape, local color, and the mix of Hispanic, Indian, and Anglo people of Taos. A disagreement about including painters who followed modern art trends ultimately brought the Taos Society to an end.
An avid fisherman, Blumenschein visited Eagle’s Nest Lake many times in the 1920s and 1930s. He appreciated the rhythm and harmony of New Mexico’s colors and land forms and wanted to capture his first impression—what he called a “jolt” from nature—to communicate the power and fullness of his experience of the scene. He created small sketches on-site to remind himself of his original emotional reaction. He would transfer the sketch to canvas, taking great care not to change the proportions, shapes, or angles for fear of losing the power of his first impression. It then took him several months to paint in every detail.
Large Blocks of Color
The picture has four basic layers from bottom to top: land, water, hills, and sky.
Variety in the Water
Within the larger masses, a good deal of variation can be found. Look for the variety of textures, colors, and shapes on the water. These variations give the water a sense of movement.
Dark edges help emphasize curvy shapes.
Blumenschein used short, visible brushstrokes to create texture, rhythm, and pattern in several places. You can find patterns of both spots and lines in the lower left corner, plus the artist’s tiny initials.
A flock of ducks sweeps diagonally across the painting, almost from corner to corner. Up close you can see that some are still swimming, some are just taking off, and some are much farther away than others.
Jump to Quick Ideas
Early Childhood (ages 3–5)
Students will enjoy moving like the birds in Blumenschein’s painting Eagle’s Nest Lake. They will then use their powers of observation to learn what water looks like when it’s still versus when it’s moving, and apply what they learn when examining the lake in the painting.
Full Lesson Plan
Elementary (grades K–5)
Working in small groups, students will find as many details as possible in Blumenschein’s Eagle’s Nest Lake, using specific words to guide their investigation. They will then select three of their favorite details and write a poem that incorporates all three items.
Full Lesson Plan
Secondary (grades 6–12)
Students will identify a place that is special to them and represent the place and what makes it special through words and images. They will then examine Blumenschein’s painting Mountain Lake (Eagle Nest) and learn about why he painted it and what makes the place so special to him. The lesson concludes with a follow-up discussion on what makes something special and the role of memories and feelings.
Full Lesson Plan
- Both Ernest Blumenschein and Frederic Remington were skilled at depicting motion in their artwork (notice the movement of water and ducks in Blumenschein’s work). Have students compare Blumenschein’s Eagle’s Nest Lake and Remington’s The Cheyenne (both included on this site). Discuss what each artist did to create a realistic sense of motion. Have students create a painting in which motion is the focal point (e.g. waves, wind, active people or animals).
- Imagine you are on a class picnic at Eagle’s Nest Lake. Have students sit in a circle and take turns giving examples of what they would feel, hear, smell, and see while sitting by the lake. Encourage them to include both things that they see in the painting and things drawn from their imagination. Write these examples on the board and turn them into a class poem.
- With each landscape he painted, Blumenschein tried to capture his first impression—what he called a “jolt” from nature—to communicate the power and fullness of his experience of the scene. Discuss the power of first impressions and what they signify about our values. What were the first things you noticed when you entered this classroom? Why do you think those things stood out to you? Have students write down everything they remember about that first day. They will then create an artwork that captures the emotions of their first impression.
A consortium of museums in the Taos art community, this site includes a link to the Blumenschein Home and Museum.
Applegate, Frank G. Native Tales of New Mexico. New Jersey: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1932.
A compilation of stories from the people of New Mexico.
Gregg, Andrew K. New Mexico in the 19th Century: A Pictorial History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1968.
A captivating, visual journey into the heart and culture of the land.
Hassrick, Peter H., and Elizabeth J. Cunningham. In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.
The catalogue for an exhibition at the Denver Art Museum from November 8, 2008—February 8, 2009.
Henning, William T. Jr. Ernest L. Blumenschein Retrospective. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 1978.
The artist’s biography and numerous examples of his work.
Keegan, Marcia. New Mexico. Toronto: Roger Boulton Publishing Services, 1984.
A photographic account of the New Mexican environment and its people.
Milner, Clyde A. II. The Oxford History of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
A comprehensive study of the American West.
Samuels, Harold and Peggy. Techniques of the Artists of the West. New Jersey: The Wellfleet Press, 1990.
Featuring twenty-one painters of the West, this book illustrates each artist’s biography with examples of artworks, focusing on one artwork and analyzing its details and techniques.
Swenson, Mary. Nature: Poems Old and New. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.
A collection of poems inspired by or about the natural world.
White, Robert R. The Taos Society of Artists. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.
A description of the school’s foundation, history, purpose and members, including actual minutes from meetings.