The Estate

Bisttram was a prolific artist, executing in excess of 3,000 works. While he did not keep a record of sales nor of works executed, his works can be traced through correspondence, exhibition records and photographs among his papers, which can be found at the Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C., The Harwood Museum, Taos, NM, and elsewhere. The Bisttrams had no children, and there are no known heirs or descendants.

After Bisttram’s death, his widow sold 77 works to the New York dealer Martin Diamond, who introduced Bisttram and other members of the Transcendental Painting Group to the New York art market.

Mrs. Bisttram willed all remaining works to St. John’s College, Santa Fe. After her death the College consigned the estate to Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe. Then, to move the works more quickly, the College transferred the estate to Munson Galleries, Santa Fe. Jim Parsons, Munson’s sales agent between 1986 and 1989, made some large sales, including groups of 100 or more works to dealers in Oklahoma, Kansas, and elsewhere. St. John’s College did not retain any works.

One of the largest sales that Parsons made was to Walt Wiggins, whose book The Transcendental Art of Emil Bisttram (Ruidoso Downs, NM: Pintores Press, 1988) includes many of the works he purchased. Most of the research for the book was done by Parsons. The unsigned works handled by Parsons have stamped signatures on the front, and estate stamps on the backs of both signed and unsigned works on paper.

Another large group of works – 10 paintings and 238 works on paper – were acquired in 1975 by the Denver collector Philip Anschutz, on the recommendation of his curator George Schreiver. For a proposed book on the collection, Bisttram prepared a 100-page essay, The Creative Process in the New Age. Part one is a detailed chronology of his personal life until his move to Taos in 1931; part two is an essay on art history outlining his views on culture and style with sections on Egyptian, Chinese, and Renaissance art. Also of prime importance are the one-paragraph descriptions he wrote for each work that were to appear in the book alongside reproductions of the works. Although the book was never published, Mrs. Bisttram’s comments on the manuscript, made in response to Schreiver’s suggestion that the section on art history be deleted, provides an overview of Bisttram’s philosophy of art and a sense of some of the personalities involved:

“I am afraid that Emil, as usual, saw in his mind’s eye something bigger, more comprehensive. …his intention was to approach art from the philosophical-religious point of view. He believed art was the final expression or form of a religion or philosophy as it developed with a civilization. He was never in sympathy with history whose basis was chronology and/or the psychosis of the period. Perhaps, one day when in the mood and have the time you will read what he has written. I expect to find something quite different from the hackneyed approach of the past. Also, I think he stopped dead at the final chapter – Contemporary Art – simply because in this period there is chaos and no sign of any “new” spiritual awareness. He knew there was a new religion coming and just before he died he said, ‘I know now how to write that last chapter.’ But it was not to be.” (Mayrion Bisttram to George Schriever, TLS, 4 June 1976, George Schriever Papers, Archives of American Art)