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Property from the Estate of Oscar G. Mayer
Walter Ufer (1876-1936)

A Pueblo Well Scene

Walter Ufer (1876-1936)
A Pueblo Well Scene
signed 'wufer' (lower right)
oil on canvas
40 x 36 in. (101.6 x 91.4 cm.)
The artist.
Oscar F. Mayer, acquired from the above, circa 1920.
By descent to the present owner.
(Possibly) Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute, Twenty-Second Annual Exhibition of Works by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity, 1918.

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Lot Essay

The Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago inspired broad national pride as well as a regional movement for artists to represent the wealth of diverse communities comprising the American identity. Regionalist developments and schools of artists in the west, south, and mid-west began sprouting up, each with their own unique palette and manner of capturing the notion of the "American" landscape and its inhabitants. Inspired by the artistic patronage displayed at the Columbian Exposition, Carter H. Harrison, Jr., mayor of Chicago, along with his philanthropic younger brother, William Preston Harrison, sought a way to promote the young artists in Chicago while celebrating the southwestern regions of the United States, in particular the distinct culture of the Pueblo Indians. "In 1914, he [Carter] and Preston formed a syndicate with several other prominent businessmen to send artists to Taos in exchange for paintings of each member, who paid the artists an agreed-upon price in advance. The syndicate's first beneficiaries were Walter Ufer and Victor Higgins." (D.A. Porter, ed., Taos Artists and Their Patrons: 1898-1950, exhibition catalogue, South Bend, Indiana, 1999, p. 88) Oscar F. Mayer was among the initial members of the syndicate and an early adamant supporter of Ufer's talents, commissioning several works from the artist during his first visits to Taos, including the present work, A Pueblo Well Scene. As relationships strained with other members, Mayer's fondness for and encouragement of Ufer remained constant and unwavering.

Walter Ufer found in New Mexico a wealth of imagery and his first works from Taos demonstrated an immediacy and strength. "These pictures also displayed those qualities that American critics had associated with the 'modern' in painting ever since the first impact of Munich had been felt in the seventies: the rich, painterly surface, broad treatment of details, massing of paint to create substance and suggest tactile qualities, boldness and fluidity of execution and virtuoso brushwork. Ufer thus demonstrated a stylistic affinity to Henri and his followers, whose work often recalled the American pioneers in Munich. In a painting like 'A Daughter of San Juan Pueblo,' his finest painting from this first summer, there is a direct and vital apprehension of personality, a psychological immediacy that is couched in much the same technical terms as a portrait by Henri or Luks or Bellows. The impact, not surprisingly, is similar. It was this quality that would set Ufer's work apart in style and tone from much of the painting in Taos which preceded him." (S.L. Good in Pioneer Artists of Taos, Denver, Colorado, 1983, p. 128)

Ufer, in his struggle to find a compelling personal style while respecting his own academic tradition, found a sympathetic subject in the Taos Indian gravely pursuing his chores. Whether engaged in time-honored activities like farming or in the new jobs of house servant or assistant to the auto mechanic, his figures move through the landscape at a measured pace, sharing the inevitability and authority of the surrounding environment. Behind the matter-of-fact quality of Ufer's canvases, such as A Pueblo Well Scene, lies a passionate commitment to both the Indian cause and the cause of American artistic independence and contemporary aesthetic theories.

At his best, Ufer is a modern painter, and there are ready reminders of the lessons of Manet and Cézanne in his emphasis on the picture surface which unites the discontinuous and separately observed details of the visual world into a cohesive image. In describing his working method, Ufer noted: "I choose my motifs and take my models to my motifs. I design the painting there. I do not make any small sketches of my models first (the traditional academic approach) but put my full vitality and enthusiasm into the one and original painting." (as quoted in P.J. Broder, Taos: A Painter's Dream, New York, 1980, p. 225)

A Pueblo Well Scene tells of an intensely felt and closely observed world. Ufer reveals this intensity through the vigor of his brushstroke, the saturation of color and the rejection of easily decorative effects. The composition is pared down to minimal planes of light and shadow, with broad areas composed in animated washes of color that saturate the canvas with luminosity and texture. Ufer's fluid curvilinear draftsmanship unites the scene and stimulates the eye with a constant current of energy in an otherwise static snapshot of everyday life. Ufer understood the importance and interest in paint surface and the picture plane that derived from exposure to the 1913 Armory Show. He had, in effect, one foot in the nineteenth century and one foot in the twentieth.

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