Hendricus Cornelius Balink was born in Amsterdam, Holland, where he earned his early art training by working as a bicycle racer and ice skater. His parents were very opposed to his artistic ambitions; however, as a recipient of a Queen Wilhelmina merit scholarship, Balink took his advanced art training at the Royal Academie of Amsterdam from 1909 to 1914.
In 1914, after immigrating to New York City, where he was employed by the Metropolitan Museum, he became Henry Balink. He then “moved to Chicago where I had portrait commissions and sold 18 paintings. I made a large mural but they wanted to cut the price for others. I was not satisfied so I wanted to go more West and I landed in Taos where I am now 6 weeks, and all ready I sold 5 pieces” (1917 Balink letter). It is said that Balink chose Taos and the West because of a railway poster he saw in a terminal.
Balink and his wife lived in Taos, New Mexico, for two years and, after a short visit to Holland and Germany in 1922, returned to New Mexico to settle permanently in Santa Fe. At this time, a great transformation came over Balink’s paintings; he found the subject that was to be the central theme of his work for the rest of his life – the American Indian.
Balink had had a classical master’s art education. His graduation piece alone involved almost three hundred studies, in the Barbizon tight brushwork and gray-brown palette. In New Mexico, his brushwork loosened and his colors brightened into red and pink and purple. “The skyscrapers of New York and Chicago did little to inspire me. The bright sunshine, vivid colors and Indian settings…seemed to be what I had been searching for.” Yet he also painted with meticulous detail when reproducing Indian pottery and weavings in his paintings. Balink was keenly interested in both the crafts and the ceremonial dances of the Indians of the area.
He painted members of sixty-three tribes, and, in 1927, was commissioned to paint portraits of Oklahoma’s Indian chiefs. In addition to his painting, Balink carved fine furniture, as well as intricately beautiful frames, which are part of most Balink paintings. Many of his works hang in museums of the Southwest, including the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Gilcrease in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as well as many private collections.
As it was with many of his contemporaries, times were not always good. “An artist’s life is a funny life,” Balink once said. “You eat chicken today and the guts and feathers tomorrow.”
Reference: American Western Art by Dorothy Harmsen, Southwest Art October 1984, The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West by Peggy and Harold Samuels