Walter Ufer (1876-1936)
Property from the Collection of Arthur J. Stegall, Jr.
Walter Ufer (1876-1936)

The Watcher

Walter Ufer (1876-1936)
The Watcher
signed 'wufer' (lower left)--signed again and inscribed with title (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
30 x 36 in. (76.2 x 91.4 cm.)
W.W. McAdoo, Litchfield Park, Arizona.
Period Gallery West, Scottsdale, Arizona.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1979.
Period Gallery West, Phoenix, Arizona, 1979, p. 13, illustrated.
P.J. Broder, Taos: A Painter's Dream, New York, 1980, pp. 224, 237, 320, fig. 217, illustrated.

Lot Essay

Like his colleagues, Walter Ufer was greatly influenced by the expressive light which turned the Southwestern landscape into chromatic visual episodes, but he was equally absorbed by the character and personalities of its American Indian inhabitants. Ufer was determined to portray the American Indian not as remote aboriginal figures acting out arcane and picturesque rituals, but most directly as men and women at a cultural crossroads, pressured by the forces of modern American civilization yet excluded from its opportunities. He saw them searching for meaning in rituals that were an amalgam of ancient tribal rites and the Catholicism imported by Spanish conquerors in the sixteenth century. Ufer joined the American Indians in their active protests and participated in strikes and other social actions, seeking to improve their conditions under which they struggled.

Ufer's daily involvement with his subjects lent an authenticity and immediacy to the figures and landscape he so revered. The longer he spent in Taos, the freer his line and more experimental his palette and brushwork became, as clearly displayed in The Watcher. Ufer's pointillist technique in the expansive sky and passing clouds reinforce the hot glistening sun angled directly overhead, casting the main figure in shadow and the rest of the landscape in a warm noonday heat. "Ufer's treatment of landscape continued to gain in sophistication and power. His eye, conditioned in part by Munich Jugendstil, and by his background as an illustrator during the great era of poster art, became more sensitive to the sinuous line in natural forms of arroyo, sage, cloud, and mountain, which were treated in a semi-abstract fashion and related to each other and to man-made forms of adobe and costume in decorative pattern. At the same time he continued to explore the rich coloristic effects of the intense New Mexico sunlight, using a general impressionist strategy...His surfaces, even when dark in tone, seemed to be permeated with light and strong color. Ufer was thus able to unite figure to landscape by a free and pervasive play of light as well as by a congruence of form and line, and create, when most successful, a visual unity of earth and sky, and human, vegetal and geological forms. Ufer's application of paint became heavier, his handling of it more confident, and his brushwork increasingly animated and expressive." (S.L. Good in Pioneer Artists of Taos, Denver, Colorado, 1983, p. 155)

As art critic Rose V.S. Berry noted in a 1923 commentary on Ufer's one-man show at the Corcoran Gallery: "In Ufer's pictures which pertain to the pictorial aspect of the land around him, he has a masterly rendition. Any artist finds it difficult in New Mexico to paint a picture and to forget or ignore the intimate relation of the sky and the land. Their joint association there as subject matter is so different from elsewhere--they are so completely all of it...So these two, the land and the sky, are thoroughly wedded and share alike the interest of the painter and the laymen who are on the ground. Ufer renders them with an impartial power in his translation. The sky he makes attractive with form and color, but he never leaves it the sole attraction. The land he makes a fit mate for his patterned sky, so strongly presented that the interest is united, and the land and the sky make a perfect whole. The mountains, as Ufer stacks them up into masses of crevassed heights, are solid, massive, and sculpturesque. One feels the thought of Cézanne, without being forced to think of him; in fact, in all of Ufer's work the modern note predominates, but with a personal adaptation which makes it his own and convinces the observer that Ufer will always be a modern, and an interesting one...There is nothing trite; there is almost nothing that is gentle, it is more frequently a feeling of power suppressed than gentleness revealed" ("Walter Ufer in a One-Man Show," The American Magazine of Art, XIII, No. 12, December 1922, pp. 509-10)

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