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

2009 Winter Catalog > 12. Bisttram, “Taos Indian Woman and Child.”

12. Emil Bisttram. “Taos Indian Woman and Child,” 1934. Lithograph. Image: 15 3/4 x 12." Sheet: 19 1/2 x 15 1/7." Signed and dated at l. r.: “BISTTRAM 34.” Titled at l.l.: “(No I) TAOS INDIAN WOMAN + CHILD.” Small spot in l.l. margin that appears to be original printing ink. Minor loss at l.l. corner of sheet, professionally repaired. A very rare work in very fine condition.

Price: SOLD.

It is my conviction that art . . . is a means to unfold the consciousness and thereby bring it to envision and experience wider horizons. . . . an experience on a higher plane of emotion and intellectual perception without which there can be no real progress in manís development.

ó Emil Bisttram

Emil Bisttram (1895-1976) came to New Mexico having absorbed the ideas of modernist abstraction and the international style of representation. His philosophies were well developed and he embraced the design principles of Dynamic Symmetry. By his own account, when Bisttram finally came into contact with the spirituality and art of Native Americans in New Mexico, his many artistic influences and goals found resolution. His portraits of the period are considered to be some of his strongest works.

Taos Indian Woman and Child is a penetrating psychological portrait. The mother is engaged in her own thoughts as she looks to the distance while her child seems to examine the viewer. Although there is no physical embrace between the two, one perceives a profound connection. The image is rendered with a cubist interplay of planes between the faces, blunt-cut hair and blanket folds, interconnecting the figures in a way that no posture could emulate.

Bisttram grew up in New York City and entered the art world at a very exciting period in modernism. His main influences were the Russian abstractionists Wassily Kandinsky and Nicholas Roerich. Under a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1932, Bisttram worked in Mexico with Diego Rivera, after which he relocated to Taos, New Mexico. “Bisttram made a formal statement of his artistic intentions with the co-founding of the Transcendental Painting Group. This Group gained recognition for being among the first Southwestern artists to challenge the supremacy of the conservative regionalist painters.” (Wiggins)

While the Transcendental Painting Group is strongly identified with non-objective forms of expression, Bisttram never rejected the use of representation altogether. Bisttram altered his style to fit his subject, even as his nonobjective persuasions and mystical convictions became the driving forces in much of his work from the 1930s on. Although the Transcendental Painting Group lasted only a few years, Bisttramís School of Art endured.

With the outbreak of World War II, Bisttram decided to take his school to Los Angeles where many young artists were either stationed in the armed services or were working in defense plants. In the winter, he moved the school to Phoenix and offered classes to the handful of artists who were able to enroll during wartime. Throughout the war, Bisttram continued to operate his school on a seasonal basis, moving between Los Angeles and Phoenix. After the war, the school returned to Taos and flourished with students enrolled under the G.I. Bill.

As a creative and intellectual force, Bisttram is recognized as one of the most important modernists of the Southwest.

Ref.: Walt Wiggins, The Transcendental Art of Emil Bisttram (1988).

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