2009 Winter Catalog, William R. Talbot Fine Art, Antique Maps & Prints Home

2009 Winter Catalog > 10. Rönnebeck, “The Sacred Mountain of Taos, N.M.”



10. Arnold Rönnebeck. “The Sacred Mountain of Taos, N.M.,” (early 1930s). Lithograph. Image size: 8 3/4 x 11 1/2". Sheet size: 11 1/2 x 15 3/4". Signed in pencil, l. r.: “Arnold Rönnebeck.” Titled and in pencil, l. l.: “The Sacred Mountain of Taos, N.M.” Fine.

Price: SOLD.

Arnold Rönnebeck (1885–1947) brought a sculptural vigor to his landscape subjects in two dimensions. A strong three-dimensionality characterizes the boldness of the lithograph offered here, in which the artist depicts the famous Taos Mountain of northern New Mexico. The mountain forms fairly writhe on the paper, communicating a sense of the living presence for which the mountain is legendary. At 12,000 feet above sea level, Taos Peak looms over the surrounding Rio Grande Valley, beckoning travelers who pass beneath its shadow. Legend holds that the mountain emits a mystical energy that can summon newcomers or send them packing.

More than a thousand years ago, the “Red Willow” people of the Tiwa tribe embraced Taos Mountain as their spiritual home and built the many-storied Taos Pueblo at its base. They claimed as their birthplace the sacred waters of Blue Lake, a small lake cradled in a mountain valley high above the pueblo. Blue Lake is the source of the clear stream that tumbles down the mountainside and provides water to the pueblo below. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, East Coast artists began to flock to the nearby village of Taos, attracted by the clarity of the air, the charismatic light, and the vibrant colors of the landscape. Kindred spirits—artists like Rönnebeck, writers, and free thinkers—followed in their wake and contributed to the formation of a world-famous art colony. Today, Taos Mountain continues to hold spiritual significance for the Pueblo Indians, as well as remaining essential to the culture, religion, and daily life of the town of Taos.

Rönnebeck first visited New Mexico in 1925 at the encouragement of his friend, the painter 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 enclave 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 modernist 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 in 1918 to Taos, New Mexico.

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 Rönnebecks remained in Colorado, but periodically visited New Mexico. The landscape and villages of New Mexico inspired numerous Rönnebeck lithographs, such as the one offered here, which likely dates to the early 1930s, when the artist created many of his powerful prints.

The present image is a vigorous interpretation of the New Mexico 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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