Walter Ufer (1876-1936)
Walter Ufer (1876-1936)

El Cacique del Pueblo

Walter Ufer (1876-1936)
El Cacique del Pueblo
signed 'WUfer' (lower left)
oil on canvas
30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm.)
Painted in 1916.
The artist.
Emil Eitel, Chicago, Illinois, acquired from the above, circa 1919.
Bismarck Hotel, Chicago, Illinois.
Private collection, acquired from the above, circa 1948.
Sotheby's, New York, 2 June 1983, lot 129.
Altermann, Scottsdale, Arizona, 16 December 2006, lot 49.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago, Twenty-Ninth Annual Exhibition of American Oil Paintings and Sculpture, November 2-December 7, 1916, no. 270.
Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Museum of Art, Exhibition of Paintings by the Taos Society of Artists, February 1-28, 1919, no. 61.
Youngstown, Ohio, Mahoning Institute of Art, n.d., on loan.

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Elizabeth Beaman
Elizabeth Beaman

Lot Essay

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 (unpublished letter, December 22, 2009, p. 3)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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