Eanger Irving Couse was born in 1866 in Saginaw, Michigan. He became perhaps the most famous member of the Taos Society of Artists and a very specialized artist with an academic background. Couse was best known for his figurative scenes of the Indians of Taos Pueblo. To paint the American Indian was a life-long endeavor.
As a child, Couse’s interest in Native American cultures developed as a result of his exposure to local Indians living near him in Michigan, as did his artistic instinct. At age 16, Couse studied briefly at the Chicago Art Institute, spending hard-earned house painting money on his courses. After three months, (the most he could afford) Couse returned to Saginaw. He worked to earn enough money to enroll in the National Academy of Design in New York City. There he received an award every year he attended for his talents. In the fall of 1886, Couse went to Paris where he entered the Académie Julian and studied under William Bougereau and Tony Robert Fleury and continued to win prizes for his work. In Paris, Couse also met his mentor and the man who would introduce him to Taos, Joseph Henry Sharp. Sharp was the central figure in organizing the Taos Society of Artists.
After continued studies at L’Ecole Des Beaux Arts, Couse stayed in France, painting French countryside scenes that he sold in Europe and the United States. Eanger Irving Couse wanted to paint a major Indian picture for the Paris Salon. His wife convinced him to return to America and live on her family’s ranch in Washington, where he could find Indian models. The Captive, a painting based on an incident associated with the Whitman Massacre, was his first painting depicting an Indian subject. It was shown in the Paris Salon of 1892 and now hangs in the Phoenix Art Museum.
In 1898, the Eanger Irving Couse established a winter studio in New York, but summers were spent away from the city, painting in Washington, Connecticut and France. In 1902, he first visited Taos, New Mexico. He would spend every summer between 1902 and 1926 there, eventually establishing permanent residence in 1927. In 1914, Couse painted his first piece for the Santa Fe Railway. He would paint twenty-two canvases for the railway over the course of his life. He became one of the founders of the Taos Society of Artists in 1915 and its first president.
E. Irving Couse produced a great many paintings of the Pueblo Indians, but he was less interested in historical accuracy than in the portrayal of figures from an artistic standpoint. Eanger Couse used the same two individuals, Ben Lujan and Geronimo Gomez, as the subjects for the majority of his paintings. Though the lines and colors of Couse’s work are quite smooth, it is possible to see Lujan and Gomez age over time.
He developed a formula for his Indian painting that included the brilliant light and colors of the Taos Valley. The idealized arrangements of the figures in their forest or pueblo settings become almost interchangeable when viewed together as a whole. His Taos Indians suggest that Native Americans were peaceful, dignified human beings and not the savages of Western lore. Couse’s paintings received national exposure and worldwide acclaim. He incorporated his classical art training and reinterpreted the West as subject matter. His paintings are still regarded as the most expressive of his time.
Couse died in 1936.
Eanger Irving Couse works are exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Smithsonian Institution; the Gilcrease Institute of Art; and the Museum of New Mexico, among other public and private collections.