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According to Virginia Couse Leavitt, “Couse was famous for his paintings of both moonlight and firelight, and in Moonlight, Pueblo de Taos he effectively combines both elements, the challenge being to bring the cool and warm tones into a unified whole. In this painting, moonlight casts a green tone across the night scene, creating a luminous backdrop as it washes across the adobe walls of the pueblo in the background. An Indian father crouches beside a small campfire in the foreground, while a young boy kneeling at his side adds a stick of wood to the embers. The two figures are bathed in the orange glow of the fire, but its warmth has not yet reached the young girl who stands behind them wrapped in a colorful shawl. Through the skillful use of form and color, couse portrays the warmth of a fire surrounded by cool night air within the hushed silence of a village wrapped in moonlight.

“Eanger Irving Couse, who was born in Saginaw, Michigan, studied art in Paris in the late 1880s. There, he developed his lifelong interest in painting the qualities of light. His preference ran to the subtle harmonies of tonalism rather than the concurrent style of Impressionism. In tonal painting, one color usually dominates. The high-keyed palette of his French period gave way, when he returned home, to the somber browns and grays popular with American tonalists around the turn of the century. He lived for a few years on his wife’s family’s ranch in Washington, where he began to fulfill his life-long passion of painting Native Americans, but it was difficult to find models among the local Klikitat, Umatilla and Yakima tribes. Their way of life was changing rapidly and they were superstitious about posing.

“In 1902, at the suggestion of fellow artist Ernest Blumenschein, Couse arrived in Taos, New Mexico, where he discovered a milieu that was perfect for his work. In addition to the physical beauty of the Pueblo people, who were peaceful, family-oriented, and protective of their cultural heritage, he found that the clear mountain air enhanced the color and form of the landscape, thus providing a fresh vision of the world. He was still interested in tonalism, and his palette changed to incorporate rich color, flooding his moonlights with deep blues and greens and setting his firelights aglow with yellows and oranges.

“The models for Moonlight, Pueblo de Taos were Ben Lujan and two of his children.”

The artist
Mrs. Alexander H. Kerr, gifted to
William Kerr, her son, 1936
Present owner, by descent

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