Ernest Martin Hennings did not initially want to be a serious painter, planning instead for a career in commercial art. After only a few, quite successful, years in this line of work however he began to become bored and started exploring the world of the serious painters.
He had graduated with honors from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1904, and won an American Traveling Scholarship two years later - which he declined, as he was eager to begin his career. By 1912 he was making plans to travel to Europe with friends Walter Thor, Angelo Jank and Franz von Stuck in order to attend the Royal Academy in Munich.
Hennings returned to the United States with the outbreak of World War I, and began maintaining two studios - one in Chicago for his professional career as a commercial muralist, and a second where he painted small canvases for private clients.
He had made the acquaintance of Walter Ufer and Victor Higgins at the American Artists Club, and through this friendship he would be introduced to his most significant and influential benefactor - Carter H. Harrison. Harrison was a former Chicago mayor and patron of the arts, who was also in partnership with Oscar Mayer, the meat industry leader, in an art-buying association. They had been funding artistic trips to the Taos, New Mexico area and asking for paintings in return.
The pair offered to sponsor a trip for Hennings to the region and he accepted the offer. For the first time in his career he was free of commercial restraints and concentrated entirely on the painting and subject. The influences of Taos can be seen almost immediately in his brighter palette, thinner layers of paint, and his focus on the Pueblo Indians.
While Hennings thought of himself as a figure painter, his work began to focus more and more on the remarkable landscapes surrounding his Taos studio. Finally, his two styles combined when he began placing his figures in the landscape and creating scenes of peaceful communion between man and nature.
By 1921 Hennings had moved to Taos permanently, and joined the Taos Society of Artists in 1924 - which was through election only. He worked throughout the Depression years, with little falter to his income or level of production. He would paint some commission murals in Texas during this time as well.
He continued to work steadily throughout the rest of his life, completing a commission for the Santa Fe Railway shortly before his death in 1956.