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Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (1874-1952)
Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (1874-1952)
Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (1874-1952)
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The Legend of the West: Iconic Works from the T. Boone Pickens Collection
Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (1874-1952)

Overland Mail

Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (1874-1952)
Overland Mail
signed and dated 'O.E. Berninghaus/-46' (lower left)
oil on canvas
35 x 40 in. (88.9 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 1946.
Noonan-Kocian Gallery, St. Louis, Missouri.
Erwin Peter Stupp, St. Louis, Missouri.
Private collection, by descent.
Christie's, New York, 5 December 2002, lot 177, sold by the above.
Private collection, Paradise Valley, Arizona, acquired from the above.
Texas Art Gallery, Inc., Dallas, Texas, 8 November 2008, lot 76.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Specialist, American Art

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the Kodner Gallery Research Project on the artist, Oscar Edmund Berninghaus, 1874-1952.

One of the founding members of the Taos Society of Artists, Oscar Berninghaus settled in Taos, New Mexico in 1925 and established himself among the leading painters of the Southwest. With a background as a commercial draftsman and illustrator, he employed a sureness of brushstroke and line to paint the expansive landscape of the region with remarkable accuracy. In Overland Mail, Berninghaus pays homage to the popular Western motif of the stagecoach in his hallmark style, featuring sparkling color and an engagingly dynamic composition.

An iconic symbol of the Old West, the stagecoach was a popular theme for Berninghaus and his contemporaries. In 1857, Well Fargo joined other express shipping companies to form the Overland Mail Company. The company set biweekly mail routes between St. Louis, Missouri, and San Francisco, California—a route which was previously only traveled by steamship once a month. Known as the “Butterfield Route” for the company’s President John Butterfield, the path ran 2,757 miles via the Southwest through El Paso to Los Angeles, before veering north to San Francisco. Going about 5 to 12 miles an hour, drivers on this 25-day journey experienced rough conditions and terrain and, most notoriously, threats from robbers, also known as road agents. The infamous dangers and conflicts along the stagecoach route soon became fodder for popular culture storytelling of the West. Notably, by the time Berninghaus painted Overland Mail, the stagecoach held a prominent place in the public consciousness thanks to Western films, such as Stagecoach (1939) starring John Wayne.

Featuring a bird's-eye perspective, Berninghaus’ Overland Mail captivates the viewer with a panoramic vista of the mail coach and surrounding open landscape. The spectacular backdrop with jagged canyon and distant mountains underscores the vastness of the Southwest and the challenges to be faced in such an environment. Through these elements, Berninghaus fully sets the stage for his scene, evidence of the artist’s earlier days as an illustrator and supreme storyteller. Indeed, the painting recalls an earlier image titled A Fight for the Overland Mail (circa 1910), which was one of five works Berninghaus painted for the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company of St. Louis that were eventually reproduced as chromolithographs.

Beyond its engrossing story, Overland Mail features the subtlety of light and contrasting vibrant colors, which Berninghaus mastered during his mature career. The stagecoach, drawn by six horses, dashes to its destination within a vast technicolor Southwestern landscape. Berninghaus' love of the New Mexican countryside is apparent, matched by his love of its subtle atmosphere and light. With this dynamic rendering of the characteristic soft brightness unique to the Southwest, coupled with its captivating composition and iconic Western theme, Overland Mail is a tour de force of Berninghaus’ career.

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