Charles Berninghaus, Western Painter
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Charles Berninghaus, impressionist landscape painter, came by art quite naturally because his father, Oscar E. Berninghaus, had already made a name for himself in the art world by the time Charles was born. Oscar first arrived in Taos in 1899 and was one of the six founders of the Taos Society of Artists, that well-known group that even today is known for the outstanding work its members produced.
Julius Charles Berninghaus was born May 19, 1905 in St. Louis, Missouri. His first trip to Taos was made when he was five years old. After his mother died in 1913, he and his older sister Dorothy, spent summers in Taos with their father. Oscar was a gentle and caring father, and the children loved their carefree summers in the Southwest. They often accompanied him on trips into the mountains to sketch. Charles and Dorothy may have spent the time fishing, as they both became excellent fly-fishers. They grew up knowing all the early artists with whom their father associated both in Taos and St. Louis.
Charles had an opportunity to see how all these artists worked, and 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.
After a short time in the overcrowded environment of New York, Charles knew he preferred the clear skies of New Mexico and became a permanent resident of Taos in 1927. He was encouraged by his father, but never pushed to follow in his footsteps. Oscar knew Charles would have to find his own path and style; and this he did.
Charles' paintings are much more impressionistic than his fathers. He painted outdoors almost exclusively, and painted 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, 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. His work at the art schools gave him a good fundamental background in drawing, but he is better known for his flower and landscape paintings.
The first exhibition in which Charles participated was at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe in October 1922. The paintings shown were “Church at Ranchos”, “New Mexico” and “Loma Church”. At that time Charles was 17 years old and not yet a high school graduate! Later exhibitions include: Art Institute of Chicago 39th Annual American show, 1926: “Fishing Boat”; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts 122nd Annual Show 1927: “Fall”; National Academy of Design, NY 1929: “Mountains and Snow”; Art Institute of Kansas City Midwestern Exhibition, 1934: “Fall Aspens”; Museum of History and Art, Los Angeles: 1934 “The Corral Fence”; San Diego Museum, International Exhibition, 1935: “The Corral Fence”; Santa Fe Museum of Fine Arts 1935, 1939, 1943, 1944, National Academy of Design, NY, 120th Annual Exhibition, 1945: “Winter Landscape” at the Harwood annual Exhibit 1945.
A review of the St. Louis Art League exhibit in an article from the “St. Louis Globe,” October 28, 1923, 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 put the old fashioned practice of “Barter” to good use. Records show many trades of paintings for auto repairs, tires, tennis equipment, art supplies, radios, batteries etc. In 1938 he traded a 12 x 14 painting called “Spring Aspens” to Mrs. Nicolai Fechin for a Nash automobile!
Charles’ more modern and impressionistic paintings served as a transition from the works of the early Taos artists to that of Robert Daughters, Rod Goebel, Walt Gonske and others. 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. The dime store variety was all he ever used.
Charles was an individual who lived his life just as he wanted to. He was married twice, each for a relatively short time as 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. Other artists said he was an “artist's artist”, and it is my belief that his work will be more and more appreciated as the years go by.
Charles Berninghaus died January 1, 1988, leaving us all emotionally richer for having known him, and visually richer with the paintings he left for the world to enjoy.
Biographical Source: This biography is from information provided from AskART by Barbara Brenner, niece of Charles Berninghaus.