Taos, New Mexico Art Galleries: DH Lawrence
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Though the images are mild by today’s standards, early 20th century Victorian England viewed D. H. Lawrence as a rebel and a spokesman for sexual freedom. As a result, the paintings were deemed obscene and banned in London. The paintings were even in danger of being destroyed until Lawrence, who was living in Italy at the time, agreed to remove them from English soil, never to be returned.
D. H. Lawrence, Painting, and Taos
Today, D. H. Lawrence is viewed by many to have been one of the greatest literary figures of the 20th century, though he said that painting “gave me a form of pleasure that words can never give….”
His first serious piece was painted in Italy in 1926. Legend has it that Maria Huxley, wife of author Aldous Huxley, inspired Lawrence’s painting obsession by giving him a set of four canvases that had been left in the Huxley’s Florence home. This first piece is entitled “A Holy Family” and depicts a man about to kiss a semi-nude woman, watched by a small child.
Lawrence and his wife Frieda first visited Taos on invitation from art patroness Mabel Dodge Sterne Luhan. They arrived on September 11, 1922, Lawrence’s 37th birthday. He wrote of his first impressions of Taos shortly after: “In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico, one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly and the old world gave way to the new.” Mabel gifted the Lawrences with 160 acres of land 20 miles north of Taos on a mountain slope that came to be known as the Kiowa Ranch. In return, Frieda gave Mabel the original manuscript of Sons and Lovers.
Lawrence lived in Taos less than two years, but it was the only time he lived in America and the only property he ever owned. He died of tuberculosis in Vence on March 1, 1930. Frieda returned to Taos a few years after her husband’s death with her Italian lover, Angelo Ravagli, who became her husband in 1950.
How did the paintings get to the Hotel La Fonda?
The hotel was always an art center. Ernest Blumenshein, Bert Phillips and other members of Taos Society of Artists met here on a regular basis and hung many of their paintings in the lobby. While it’s not certain whether owner Saki Karavas encountered or knew D. H. Lawrence himself, he was well acquainted and good friends with the “Lawrence women", Frieda Lawrence, Mabel Dodge Luhan and Lady Dorothy Brett, as well as Millicent Rogers and Georgia O’Keefe. Saki was a serious art collector and quite a Taos figure. His love for women earned him the title of the “Don Juan of Taos”.
Saki was a fan of D. H. Lawrence and owned several first editions of his literary works. When Frieda Lawrence died in August of 1956 her estate, which included the Lawrence paintings, passed on to her then husband Angelino Ravagli. Later that same year Angelino sold them to Saki. He never would disclose what he paid for them and, though he received many generous offers over the years, he refused to sell them. Thus, never married, he bequeathed his hotel and the paintings to his good friend, George Sahd’s family. Today the hotel and the paintings have been lovingly restored, preserving two Taos treasures in one of the most interesting Taos, New Mexico art galleries.
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