Oscar Edmund Berninghaus, an American artist and founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, was born on October 2, 1874 in St. Louis, Missouri. He is best known for his paintings of Native Americans, New Mexico and the American Southwest. Berninghaus’ father ran a lithography business, which stimulated his interest in watercolor painting. He began developing his artistic talent by sketching the St. Louis riverfront, and later developed a fascination with the American Old West.
Berninghaus was largely a self-taught artist. By 1886, he was an accomplished watercolorist. At the age of 16, he quit school and took a job with Compton & Sons, a local lithography company, where he worked until 1893. Here he learned the technical details of engraving, color separation and printmaking. Berninghaus attended night classes at Washington University in St. Louis and sketched and painted in his spare time.
By 1899, Oscar Berninghaus developed a reputation as an artist, and was given a commission by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad to produce promotional sketches of the Colorado and New Mexico landscapes. After spending a week in Taos, New Mexico, he met and befriended Bert Phillips. Berninghaus was captivated by the local Indian culture and the landscape and light of the area.
In 1915, Oscar Berninghaus became a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, along with Bert Philips and four other artists. He was the first chairman of the Society. Berninghaus was also a member of other eastern and western arts organizations, in National Academy of Design, the Salmagundi Club, and the Society of Western Artists.
Berninghaus’ style was one of short, quick brush strokes, which gave his paintings a unique texture. Early in his career he painted on site, however later on he painted from memory. Oscar Berninghaus’ paintings can be found in the collections of Amon Carter Museum (Fort Worth, Texas); Museum of New Mexico (Santa Fe, New Mexico); St. Louis Art Museum; murals in the Missouri State Capitol (Jefferson City, Missouri); Gilcrease Museum (Tulsa, Oklahoma); Stark Museum of Art (Orange, Texas); Nelson-Atkins Museum; Wichita Art Museum; as well as others.
Oscar Berninghaus died on April 27, 1952 in Taos, New Mexico.