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2009 Winter Catalog > 9. Rönnebeck, “Rio Grande Canyon, N.M.”



9. Arnold Rönnebeck. “Rio Grande Canyon, N.M.,” 1931. Lithograph, no. 8 of 50. Image size: 9 1/2 x 14." Sheet: 11 1/2 x 16." Signed and dated in pencil, l.r. Titled and numbered in pencil, l.l. Fine.

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Initially trained as a sculptor at the Berlin Royal Art School, the German-born lithographer Arnold Rönnebeck (1885–1947) brought a sculptural vigor to his landscape subjects in two dimensions. A robust three-dimensionality underlies the lithograph offered here, in which the artist imposes an orderly geometry upon the canyon walls and surrounding mountains of the Rio Grande Gorge just south of Taos. Against these forms, he deftly juxtaposes stylized cloud patterns that read as flat abstractions in the upper third of the print. Even as Rönnebeck applies the tenets of modernist abstraction to his interpretation of the Rio Grande Gorge, he also conveys the sweeping grandeur of this particular vantage point in which the river appears to be flowing through a giant crack in the earth (and, geologically, the formation actually is a crack known as the Rio Grande Rift). He underscores the drama of the landscape through bold alternations of light and dark patterns.

Rönnebeck first came to New Mexico in 1925 at the encouragement of his friend Marsden Hartley, whom he had met in Paris some twenty years earlier. While in Paris, Rönnebeck studied with Aristide Maillol and became part of the avant-garde circle that included Gertrude and Leo Stein, as well as Hartley. Another member of the circle was Karl von Freyburg, Rönnebeck’s cousin and later the subject of Hartley’s famous German Officer series.

In 1923, Rönnebeck moved to New York City, and at the behest of Hartley he entered the circle of artists and writers around Alfred Stieglitz. In this milieu, Rönnebeck became acquainted with Mabel Dodge Luhan, the wealthy New York City hostess extraordinaire who had moved her salon to Taos in 1918.

As with so many artists and writers visiting Taos in the 1920s, Rönnebeck stayed with Mabel Dodge, now the doyenne of the Taos modernist colony. The visit changed both his professional and his personal life. He was deeply impressed by the landscape and the native people, and he met his future wife, Louise Emerson, whom he married in New York in 1926. Soon after, the couple moved to Denver where Rönnebeck became director of the Denver Art Museum, a position he held until 1930. The couple remained in Colorado, but periodically visited New Mexico, the landscape and villages of which inspired numerous Rönnebeck lithographs, such as the one offered here and dated 1931.

In that year, Rönnebeck sent Carl Zigrosser, his dealer at the well-known Weyhe Gallery in New York City, a batch of lithographs featuring New Mexico subjects. “They are of subjects ‘round little old Santa Fe,” he wrote to Zigrosser, “and, therefore, may not find much of an echo among N.Y. addicts.” At this time, Rönnebeck was at the end of his tenure as director of the Denver Art Museum, and he continued, “I had to get something out of my system about these much loved regions.”

The present image was likely one of this group of prints that Rönnebeck sent to New York. It is a vigorous interpretation of the New Mexican landscape that reflects the artist’s love of the area and also his aesthetic grounding in international modernism.

Ref.: Clinton Adams, Printmaking in New Mexico, 1880–1990 (Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1991), pp. 40, 144, n. 22.

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