Fenn Galleries, Santa Fe, NM
Private Collection, Texas
Although Eanger Irving Couse wasn’t the first of the six Taos Founders to arrive in Taos, New Mexico—that honor went to Joseph Henry Sharp in 1893—it was Couse whose presence was so ubiquitous then, and even today, as his home and studio are still destinations for artists and art enthusiasts in the Southwest. Couse might have also been the most romantic of the six, particularly when it came to the Taos Pueblo and its people—romantic in the sense that he presented idealized views of the pueblo, but also literal romance, that of young love. Both are themes of his painting Taos Love Call. The painting’s main compositional element is a diamond-shaped view through cottonwood trees on either side of a stream. In the diamond is the Taos Pueblo, lit by moonlight and glowing ethereally. On the edges of the diamond are a man and a woman, their courtship on clear display within nature’s private sanctuary. Couse was no stranger to these paintings of innocence and tender love. Other examples include The Love Call from 1908, again showing a young flute player calling to a girl amid a stand of aspens, and 1909’s The Lovers, showing a couple walking amid the pueblo with expressions of affection. These works, including Taos Love Call, are examples of Couse’s humanistic approach to his subject.
“Couse…interested above all in the human form—an academic concern in itself—worked in a style firmly grounded in 19th-century precedents. Quiet, conservative, introspective, totally immersed in his own work—his personal style developed through a natural coalescence of temperament and training. He transferred the principles of nobility and beauty found in classical art to the American subject that he felt was most ideally suited for such treatment, the American Indian,” writes his granddaughter, Virginia Couse Leavitt, in Eanger Irving Couse: The Life and Times of An American Artist, 1866-1936. “The concept of ‘natural’ man and the ethnic costuming of the Indian lent themselves appropriately to the tradition of the classical nude, allowing Couse to take full advantage of the handsome, athletic physique of the Taos men…although his Indians appear idealized, they are in reality accurate portrayals of his models, a fact verified by his photographs. The motifs he painted, however, although true to the Indian spirit, were more conceptual than ethnographic, often bearing titles—such as The Evening Meal, Repose, The Lesson and The Source—tied to 19th-century themes. In American Indians, he visualized universal qualities of humanity and spirituality with which he could empathize. Although the resultant images were romantic, they were rescued from sentimentality by the classical restraint of his style.”