Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum

Wausau, WI




Carl Rungius: Artist, Sportsman


The work of one of America's leading wildlife artists - Carl Rungius (1869 - 1959) takes center stage on April 7, 2001 when a major international loan exhibition opens at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, Wisconsin. Carl Rungius: Artist, Sportsman remains on view through June 17, 2001. (left: Carl Rungius)

The Woodson Art Museum is the first American venue for the exhibition, which is drawn from the extensive Rungius holdings at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta, and other institutional and private collections. Included in the exhibition are 111 canvases, 22 works on paper, 7 sculptures, and more than 300 cultural objects, many of which will be installed in a re-creation of The Paint Box, the Banff studio where Rungius spent over 20 summers.

A native of Germany, Carl Clemens Moritz Rungius (pronounced Run-gus) studied at several art academies, where he found himself drawn to the work of European animal artists who combined an impressionistic painting style with the European sporting art tradition. To many Europeans of the late 19th century, America represented a land of plenty with boundless opportunities for hunting, an image fueled by popular "Wild West" novels. In 1895 Rungius leapt at the chance to visit an uncle in the United States, and he immigrated to the United States a year later. From his base in New York, he made frequent hunting and sketching trips to Maine and New Brunswick - and eventually extended his forays to the Rocky Mountain region. He quickly became enamored of the landscape of the American West and its animal life. Rungius maintained a New York studio and established a summer studio in Banff in 1922. (left: A Woodland Stag, 1926, drypoint on paper, 15.7 x 21.4 cm; right: Before the Battle, 1905, oil on canvas)

Active in the first half of the 20th century, Rungius is important today because he was an innovator - the first career wildlife artist in America. An avid sportsman, he spent time in the wilderness to enhance his knowledge of animals and environments. His paintings combine both landscapes and wildlife, and they represent an idyllic world where the human imprint on the landscape is invisible. Rungius places his mammals in loosely sketched settings of open vistas and bright skies that reflect his hunting and painting trips to Wyoming, Alaska, and the Canadian Rockies. (left: A Camp in the Rockies, 1925, oil on canvas, 125.5 x 100.5 cm)

Carl Rungius: Artist, Sportsman is a travelling exhibit organized and circulated by the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta


The following is reprinted from the catalogue From Inside Out: Contemporary Wildlife Art and the Legacy of Carl Rungius produced in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name by the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta Canada. The Glenbow Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council and the Calgary Region Arts Foundation in the publication of this catalogue. The text is reprinted with permission of The Glenbow Museum and the author.


The Development of Wildlife Art and the Influence of Carl Rungius

by Kirstin Evenden

"Rungius was a pioneer, unique in this country as a portraitist of big game. All those painting wildlife today owe a debt to the tenacity of his ambition, and to the fluke of fate that brought him to this country." [1]

This exhibition explores the legacy of big game painter Carl Rungius (1869-1959) in the context of contemporary wildlife art. [2] For much of the twentieth century, wildlife artists throughout North America have researched Rungius's work, and many have visited Glenbow to study the Rungius collection. [3] These artists work in a variety of media and have different artistic styles. Many of the artists who follow Rungius's work come from the United States, where Rungius is more well known, but a number of Canadian artists have also looked to Rungius to learn from his techniques. (left: Alaskan Moose, Kenai Peninsula, oil on canvas, 158.0 x 227.0 cm)

This interest in Rungius's work is indicative of a particular tradition of contemporary wildlife art in North America, one that looks to the work of past wildlife artists as a form of apprenticeship. [4] Rungius isn't the only artist of the first half of the twentieth century to impact contemporary wildlife artists, but his role as an accomplished impressionist artist whose primary subject matter was big game makes him a major influence on subsequent generations of wildlife artists.

While From the Inside Out focuses on this particular genre of contemporary art, it is not our intent to marginalize the work. This is a concern with wildlife art - that isolating works depicting similar subject matter does nothing to move the tradition forward. Artist Robert V. Clem has said, "...I have been increasingly put off at the extent to which...works involving natural history subject matter are relentlessly categorised as "wildlife art," in such contrast to everything else which seemingly qualifies as simply 'art.'" [5] Indeed, during his day, Carl Rungius confronted the same issue, "What do you mean, Sporting art? There is only art; it may be good or bad, but it's still art." [6] (left: Spring on the Range, oil on canvas, 63.5 x 76.8 cm)

At a time when environmental issues are at the forefront of our societal consciousness, the development of this genre in late twentieth century North America is indicative of our continued desire to be part of the natural world, and our distance from it. And yet the history of North American wildlife art has yet to be fully written. Recent work has traced the depiction of animals in art from around the world, which has, in part, validated wildlife art in North America. [7] While this has furthered the argument that animal imagery played an important role in various cultures, it also points to a need for specificity when writing about wildlife art. By articulating Rungius's legacy in the development of wildlife art in twentieth century North America, this exhibit traces one aspect of the larger history.

The artists were selected for this exhibition by co-curator and wildlife artist Dwayne Harty. They are established, senior wildlife artists from North America. [8] Their work acknowledges the influence of Carl Rungius, either aesthetically or conceptually. [9] In some instances, such as in the case of Ken Carlson, Rungius's work inspired them to become artists.

In tracing Rungius's legacy, it is useful to examine the similarities these artists share with him. Rungius painted both landscapes and wildlife, and situated the animals in their natural environment. At the time, this technique was new to painting in North America. His consistent use of field studies - both colour and compositional sketches - enhanced his ability to translate colour and atmosphere into his finished studio work, thus creating a seductive vista or image in which the animal seemed "to belong." Artists such as Tucker Smith and Douglas Allen follow this technique - the use of colour is a consistent strategy in their painting. Stylistically, Bob Kuhn, Ken Carlson, Robert Lougheed, and John Schoenherr echo Rungius's impressionistic painting approach while using similar techniques that convey a strong sense of movement. These artists are not copiers of Rungius's methods - they view his work as something that has opened the door to artistic possibilities in the wildlife art genre. (left: On Yukon Waters, 1907, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 117.5 cm)

Robert Bateman, Michael Coleman, and George McLean differ from Rungius in their stylistic approaches and employ a form of high realism - albeit in different ways. All of them acknowledge the importance of an animals' environment to the depiction of the animal, and in this they recall Rungius's approach. Many wildlife artists also consider Rungius's work important because he spent time in the wilderness that was necessary to enhance his knowledge of the animals and their environment.

It is still considered crucial to one's development as an artist to acquire field training by sketching animals in their natural habitats or in zoos. "Rungius was a keen observer, both of the animal and their habitats, and in this he influenced me greatly." [10] Of course Rungius wasn't the only artist in early twentieth century North America to employ such techniques, but his work was greatly expanded by the practice. Artists of the generation who immediately followed Rungius - John Ford Clymer, Robert Lougheed, Clarence Tillenius, and Bob Kuhn - have been proponents of the use of field work in their easel painting. (left: Caribou North of Jasper, 1955, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 101.6 cm)

Renowned European animal artists Richard Friese and Bruno Liljefors profoundly affected Carl Rungius. They combined an impressionistic painting style with the tradition of European sporting art. This laid the groundwork for Rungius's development as an artist; European sporting art is still important to North American wildlife artists. As a young artist, the Swedish-born American sculptor Kent Ullberg studied both Liljefors' and Rungius's work before emigrating to the United States in 1975. [11]

Like Rungius, a number of the artists (Douglas Allen, Ken Carlson, John Ford Clymer, Bob Kuhn, Robert Lougheed, John Schoenherr, and Clarence Tillenius) come from a background in both fine art and commercial illustration. In the early 1960s, when photography replaced the work of illustrators in periodicals, these artists saw the opportunity to pursue their own artistic practice. Whether they received their training in art or commercial art school, whether they were mentored or largely self-taught, their work as illustrators enabled them to depict narrative in realistic visual terms, and to accurately depict the musculature and movement of animals.

The accurate representation of animals is one of the hallmarks of "good" wildlife art (some artists have said this may actually hamper an artist's ability to creatively interpret his/her subject). Nevertheless, accuracy is of continued importance to wildlife art. "But biological accuracy does not mean a painting has to look like a photograph...photography has imprisoned wildlife painting of this century...the widespread reliance on photography. In this case, the finished canvas is not the product of the artist's imagination or firsthand experience." [12] But the wildlife artists who attempt to push the genre artistically are interested in more than the accurate "description" of an animal in visual form. Perhaps this paradox stems from the long tradition of commercial American illustration in which, "The illustrator was caught between what the public wanted to see and his own artistic endeavours..." [13]

The issue of accuracy affects wildlife artists working in all media. This is referred to in Ken Bunn's biography, "While he [Bunn] concedes his pieces are not exactly scientific, he believes that "strict accuracy does not necessarily make a great sculpture." The fact that Bunn makes this comment indicates there has been some movement within the genre to allow for enhanced artistic interpretation since Rungius's time. Compare Bunn's comment to the story of Rungius's first sculpture Bighorn Sheep, 1915. Rungius gave the sculpture to his friend and outfitter, Jimmy Simpson. Knowing the anatomy of bighorn sheep intimately, Simpson indicated to Rungius that the legs looked limp and strung up - the way Rungius saw them when he sketched the dead animal. Worried about the inaccuracy, Rungius broke the sculpture's plaster cast and began again. [14]

Accurate representation in wildlife art also relates to the role of wildlife art in scientific illustration. During his day, Rungius worked as an artist for some of the most esteemed conservationists of the period. He was by no means an activist, but his illustrations were used in publications on early conservation and biological science. [15] The relationship of wildlife art to the conservationist movement remains to this day. Robert Bateman, for example, is a spokesman for numerous environmental causes, and admits to using his work to further them.

Rungius was also commissioned to do a major diorama at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Canadian artist Clarence Tillenius, who, as a young artist, sought advice from Rungius, also became a diorama artist for numerous Canadian museums. That these artists were employed in commercial and scientific ventures meant that there was a need within science and with the public for wildlife art to realistically portray animals.

Rungius's commitment to his practice is echoed by the artists in this exhibition. The discussion of Rungius's impact on wildlife art is but one line of inquiry into the history of wildlife art practice in North America. The artists in this exhibition have played a part in keeping Carl Rungius's legacy alive, ensuring a place for wildlife art, and for the memory of Rungius's prolific career, for years to come.


Endnotes To Evenden Essay

1. Martha Hill, "Carl Rungius and his Artistic Legacy," Value in Wildlife Art, p. 66.

2. For biographical information on Carl Rungius see these publications: Don Crouch, Carl Rungius: The Complete Prints (Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Co., 1989); E.J. Hart and John Whyte, Carl Rungius, Painter of the Western Wilderness (Toronto: Douglas and McIntyre in association with Glenbow, 1985); William J. Schaldach, Carl Rungius: Big Game Painter -- Fifty Years with Brush and Rifle (Vermont: Countryman Press, 1945)

3. Glenbow's collection includes over 2500 works, including finished paintings, studies, and sketches by Carl Rungius, as well as the contents of his Banff and New York studios, and his personal papers and archives.

4. The research conducted by Robert A. McCabe analyzed which first and second generation artists are considered major influences on young artists within the genre of wildlife art today. Robert A. McCabe, "American Wildlife Art: Roots, Influences, Similarities," Value in American Wildlife Art, Proceedings of the 1992 Forum (Jamestown, New York: Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, 1992) p. 24.

5. Nicholas Hammond, Twentieth Century Wildlife Artists (Woodstock, N.Y.: The Overlook Press, 1986) p.13.

6. Carl Rungius quoted in Schaldach, p.10.

7. See the following essay. William H. Gerdts, "American Wildlife Painting: A Historical Survey," Natural Habitat, Contemporary Wildlife Artists of North America (New York: Spanierman Gallery, 1998) p. 6-20.

8. A number of the artists in this exhibition (including Bob Kuhn, 1992, and Kent Ullberg, 1996) have received the Rungius Medal for artistic excellence that is awarded every year by the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

9. The reach of Rungius's legacy is such that there are many other artists who are influenced by him who could not be included in the exhibition.

10. George McLean, artist's statement, March 2000.

11. Conversation with the artist, April 2000.

12. Martha Hill, p. 69.

13. Judy L. Larson, American Illustration, 1890-1925, Romance, Adventure, and Suspense (Alberta: Glenbow, 1986) p. 26.

14. E.J. Hart and Jon Whyte, p. 113.

15. See the following publications. Theodore Roosevelt et. al, The Deer Family (New York: The MacMillian Co.,1902); William Hornaday, The American Natural History: A foundation of useful knowledge of the higher animals of North America (New York: Scribner, 1914)


Biography of Kirstin Evenden

Kirstin Evenden is an Art Curator at Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and co-curator of From the Inside Out. She has been at the Glenbow since1995. She obtained an M.A. in Art History from the University of British Columbia, has a diploma in Arts Administration from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C., and received her Bachelors in Art History from Université Laval in Quebec City, Quebec. She has authored several articles in art history and contemporary culture issues, and curated numerous exhibitions since beginning at Glenbow. She is interested in curatorial practice that situates the role of art within broader societal contexts. Her most recent projects are the travelling exhibition "Carl Rungius: Artist, Sportsman" and the companion exhibit "From the Inside Out: Contemporary Wildlife Art and the Legacy of Carl Rungius."

rev. 11/21/00, 12/9/00, 4/1/01

Read more articles on wildlife art in this magazine:

Read more on the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum.in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/27/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.