Organizations* : Taos SA
Ernest Martin Hennings demonstrated artistic promise at an early age, and was encouraged by his teachers and his mother. He graduated with honors from the Art Institute of Chicago in June 1904, and was awarded an American Traveling Scholarship in June 1906 “as a prize for excellence in drawing, painting, and composition,” but this he declined, as he wanted to begin a career as a commercial artist.
By 1912 he was becoming somewhat bored with commercial art and traveled to Munich to study at the Royal Academy. Back in Chicago, his work came to the attention of Carter H. Harrison, a patron of the arts and a sportsman who had hunted in the Taos, New Mexico area and consequently was acquainted with the land and the young art colony. After seeing photos of the area, Hennings decided to make the journey. He set up his studio in Taos and began painting some of his most successful canvases. Like several other artists who came to Taos, Hennings remained active on the national level, visiting other areas and exhibiting widely, as well as taking some time to travel abroad. But Taos soon became the artist’s spiritual home, and he became a permanent resident there in 1921. He was elected a member of the Taos Society of Artists three years later.
Although Hennings considered himself to be foremost a figure painter, he could not remain immune to the beauty of the New Mexico landscape, saying, “New Mexico has almost made a landscape painter out of me, although I believe my strongest work is in figures.” It was when the artist began to combine the elements of figure painting with those of the New Mexico landscape that he discovered his own unique style and distinguished himself from the other Taos artists, blending academic style with the decorative line of Art Noveau. The results were peaceful scenes of the quiet interlude between man and nature. Often infused with dappled sunlight, his paintings are like tapestries; their rich colors and stylized forms create peaceful and luminous images of life in Taos.
For the remainder of his career, Hennings was devoted to painting the West, including commissioned portraits of Navajo Indians for the Santa Fe Railroad. However, his primary subjects were the New Mexico Indians, which he portrayed as dignified heroic people. His technique was to paint the background first and then put figures in various positions to determine which was the most successful composition. He worked on several canvasses at once and disavowed modernist avant-garde movements.
Few of his paintings are dated. His wife, Helen Otte Hennings, kept a meticulous record, but when she moved from Taos to Chicago in 1979, it was lost, and no copy has ever been found.
Reference: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, edited by Dr. Rick Stewart, AskArt.com