Son of one of the six founders of the Taos Society of Artists, Charles Berninghaus is known for his impressionistic work. He painted almost exclusively out of doors and also very fast in order to catch the “light” of the moment. He used only one brush, wiping it clean before each change of color. Landscapes without figures are most common in his body of work, as Charles loved the country, flowers, trees, and streams of New Mexico. He always said: “Why paint anything unpleasant?” The whole outdoors was his studio and he carried his equipment in his car with him at all times.
Charles spent his summers in Taos with his father, often accompanying the senior Berninghaus on trips into the mountains to sketch. He grew up knowing all the early artists with whom his father associated both in Taos and St. Louis, and had the opportunity to see how all these artists worked, as well always had access to paints and canvas. He attended St. Louis schools through high school, graduating in 1924, followed by art training at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Art Students League in New York.
However, after a short period of time in New York, Charles knew he preferred the clear skies of New Mexico, and became a permanent resident of Taos in 1927. Although otherwise following the path his father cleared, Charles was never pushed to follow in his footsteps. Oscar knew Charles would have to find his own path and style. And this he did. Indeed, an article from the October 28, 1923 St. Louis Globe states: “...it so happens that the Berninghaus is not Oscar, the already famous painter of Indians, ponies and Taos Mountain, but his young son, Charles, who comes to the League show with four sketches in which it is impossible to find any trace of ‘parental authority.’ In fact, J. Charles considers his father something of an old fogy in art. He has his own ideas, and they are exceedingly modern.”
Charles’ more modern and impressionistic paintings served as a transition from the works of the early Taos artists to those of artists such as Robert Daughters, Rod Goebel, and Walt Gonske. His work became more abstract and loose as he aged, mostly because he didn’t believe in paying an ophthalmologist for glasses when he really needed them.
Known by his peers as an “artist’s artist,” Charles was an individual who lived his life just as he wanted to. Although married twice, he found that living alone he could be just who he wanted to be and do just what he wanted to do. His possessions were few and bank account low, but he lived as he pleased and was obligated to no one.