Years before Los Cinco Pintores elevated Santa Fe into an art colony, an artist from Utah painted the Southwest in a veil of European modernism.
Donald Beauregard designed the murals inside the New Mexico Museum of Art, studied in Paris and absorbed the experimental styles of Cézanne and Gauguin.
He was one of the first artists recruited by New Mexico Museum of Art director Edgar Lee Hewett. The museum owns some 180 of his paintings.
But nobody knows him.
Opening Feb. 25, an exhibition of 40 works surveys Beauregard’s short but ambitious career in “An American in Paris: Donald Beauregard.”
Current Museum of Art director and exhibit curator Mark White began researching the artist when he joined the institution in 2020. His introduction to the painter came when he saw Beauregard’s murals inside St. Francis Auditorium.
“He’s essentially a Mormon kid from a small town in Utah,” White said. Hewett encouraged attorney and Santa Fe booster Frank Springer to become Beauregard’s patron by sending him to Paris to study at the prestigious Académie Julian for two years. The artist traveled to Spain, and Brittany, France, where he studied the seaside commune of Douarnenez.
In the late 19th century, numerous modern artists, including Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Sérusier, left the urban environs of Paris seeking inspiration among the rural Catholic communities to the south, particularly Douarnenez.
Instruction focused on drawing live models, studying plaster casts of antique sculpture, and imitating the masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Despite this historical grounding, Beauregard felt the draw of Impressionism, with its fluid brushwork and attention to the transitory effects of shadow and light.
His unique style blended the innovations of Paul Cézanne, Gauguin and van Gogh, as well as the early works of Henri Matisse and German Expressionism.
“He was constantly on the latest element of modernism,” White said. “In 1912, for an American artist, he was very much on the vanguard. Few were producing such exceptional work.”
“Portrait of an Artist,” (1912), reflects the painterly strokes and subtle coloration of Cézanne, as well as the Impressionists. The subject dresses in attire common to Paris art students.
“That’s actually my favorite,” White said. “We do not know who that is. He seems to be a fellow student. Here he takes the part of the stroller (a flânuer) in the streets of Paris.”
The flânuer observed everything in experience with intellectual curiosity, just as an artist might, and was usually identified with the streets of Paris.
The painting was likely produced in Douarnenez, White said.
“It’s a tour-de-force of everything he picked up in Paris. If Beauregard had a masterpiece, this is probably it.”
The artist adopted many of the trappings of Impressionism by cropping the composition to exclude parts of the scene, just as a photograph might, and by leaving a large amount of empty, negative space in the foreground.
In “Utah Landscape,” (1914), Beauregard offers a light-flecked, Impressionist vision of the Southwest. The artist likely painted the scene in the southern part of the state before his second trip to Europe in 1911. The spare light of allowed him to use swaths of blue in the shadows of the middle ground, a technique often employed by the French Impressionists.
In “Auvergne,” (c. 1912), he takes on van Gogh, splashed with wide brushstrokes in the village behind two peasant women. He uses a deliberately naive style to express his engagement with the rustic scene.
“These are the women of Douarnenez,” White said. “Brittany remains kind of rural, staunchly Catholic. The women became very known for those hats.”
The lace chapeaus known as coiffées varied from village to village, so that locals could identify the wearer’s origins.
Beauregard’s street scene “Rue Royale, Paris” (c. 1910), was painted near the Académie Julian.
The artist returned to the U.S. to complete a mural for the New Mexico building at the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego. The mural cycle would explore the history of St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan Order, culminating in an allegorical celebration of the arts and culture of Santa Fe.
Beauregard never finished it. He died of stomach cancer at age 29 in 1914.
Art historian and Native arts champion Kenneth Chapman and painter Carlos Vierra finished the mural for installation in the museum’s St. Francis Auditorium.
“This is the kind of artist that Hewett thought was the epitome of the Santa Fe art colony,” White said. “A lot of the best known (such as Will Shuster, Fremont Ellis, Walter Mruk, Jozef Bakos and Willard Nash, known as Los Cinco Pintores,) had not arrived yet. He was professionally trained in Europe, he was experimental. (Hewett) really believed Beauregard was where the city should go.”