Oscar Edmund Berninghaus was an American artist and a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists. He is best known for his paintings of Native Americans, New Mexico and the American Southwest. His son, Charles Berninghaus, was also a Taos artist.
By 1899, Berninghaus held his first one-man show, and thus had developed a reputation as an artist. He was offered a commission by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad to produce promotional sketches of the Colorado and New Mexico landscapes and soon traveled West. After spending a day in Denver, he traveled south to Antonio, Colorado on a standard gauge railroad before transition to a narrow gauge track for the remainder of his trip into New Mexico. All the while, Berninghaus sketched, and was eventually invited by the conductor to ride on the top of the train car.
When he passed nearby Taos, New Mexico he disembarked the train and travelled overland. During his 8 day stay, he met and befriended Bert Phillips, who had established himself as a painter in Taos the previous year. Although he soon returned to St. Louis, and was married to Emelia Miller in 1900, Berninghaus was captivated by the local Indian culture and the landscape and light of New Mexico. For the next few years, the painter lived in St. Louis during the winters, where he pursued his commercial illustration work, and returned to Taos in the summers to pursue his fine art painting.
In 1903 Berninghaus had two designs selected for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair medal competition. In 1905 Berninghaus and his wife, Emelia, had their second son, Julius Charles Berninghaus, who would go on to become a well known New Mexican landscape painter in his own right. By 1908 the painter had firmly estblished himself as one of St. Louis’ foremost artists, having won a competition at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, become a member of the St. Louis Artists’ Guild, the Society of Western Artists, and the Salmagundi Club, and held a one-man exhibition of fifty Western paintings at the Noonan-Kocian Gallery.
In 1914, a year after his wife died of diabetes, the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company release a promotional booklet titled “Epoch Marking Events of American History” that was composed of billboard illustrations that Berninghaus had previously completed for the company. The book included 10 paintings by the artist featuring historical events important to the American West, including Hernando de Soto’s founding the Mississippi River, Jacques Marquette’s descending the same river, Pierre Laclède’s founding of St. Louis, a scene from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, John C. Frémont, a pioneer wagon train on the Salt Lake Trail, and a Union Pacific train. Berninghaus painted a number of paintings for the Busch family throughout his lifetime, many of which were donated to the St. Louis Art Museum.