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Carl Rungius: Artist, Sportsman


Carl Rungius: Artist, Sportsman presents a comprehensive collection of works and artifacts of America's historic painter of big game and first career wildlife artist. This exhibition features over 100 works of art including paintings, drawings, and sculptures alongside items from his Banff and New York studios, personal mementos, and numerous photographs from the unequalled Rungius collections of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta. The most comprehensive exhibition of the artist's work to date, Carl Rungius: Artist, Sportsman examines Rungius's contributions to American painting within the context of his life and times for a new understanding of this important but often overlooked artist. (right: Carl Rungius, No Trespassing (Hunting Marmots), n.d., oil on canvas. Glenbow Collection, Calgary, Alberta)

By situating animals in their natural environment-a practice new to painting in early twentieth-century North America, Rungius combined wildlife and landscape painting for a unique statement on the Western environment and its inhabitants. His work represents an Eden-like world where the human imprint on the landscape is invisible, and his legacy of accomplished yet romantic imagery has helped shape the idea and image of the North American wilderness.

Carl Rungius was born in Rixdorf, in what is now Berlin, Germany, in 1869. Most of his childhood was spend in Britz.The countryside of this agricultural village was his playground, and a family with interests in art, taxidermy, and nature surrounded him. From an early age, Rungius was interested in hunting and knew he wanted to be an animal painter. In late nineteenth-century Germany, access to the remaining forests and undeveloped land was limited, and there were few hunting opportunities for the average citizen. For Rungius, whose ideas about America were fueled by popular literature, the West represented the freedom to both hunt and paint on a scale in accordance with his ambition.When he received an invitation from his uncle, Dr. Clemens Fulda, in 1894 to hunt Moose in Maine, Rungius leaped at the opportunity. The visit would change his life.

In 1895 a young Rungius traveled to Wyoming, which for him was an exotic experience. Long vistas, majestic mountains, and big game were plentiful. He first focused on elk, a species related to the red deer stag of Europe, and for five months he stalked game and made detailed studies of his trophies. After his initial visit in 1895, he returned to Wyoming every summer and fall from 1896 through to 1902 (except for 1901), and then again in 1915 and 1920. He always stayed at the Lozier family's ranch, the Box R Ranch, in Cora,Wyoming. In 1896, the year after he first traveled to Wyoming, Rungius immigrated to the United States. (right: Carl Rungius, Rocky Mountain Puma, 1921. oil on canvas. Glenbow Collection, Calgary, Alberta)

Early in his North American career, hunters, and naturalists enlisted Carl Rungius to illustrate their magazines, books, and campaigns to conserve endangered animals. Around 1909, Rungius stopped illustrating to pursue his career as an easel painter full-time. But his illustrations were reproduced long after they were created, separate from their original context. This indicates the important role his illustrations played in circulating information about science and ethical hunting. Rungius reached a large public through his illustrations. In early twentieth-century North America, where there were few major zoos and photography was still in its infancy, book and periodical illustrations were the public's main source of information concerning wildlife. Carl Rungius took his own advice and focused on his art. "I had the good fortune to have a single-track mind," he said.

Born into the European tradition that honored big game, Rungius was overwhelmed by the unlimited opportunities to paint the majestic animals he hunted in North America. He used traditional and modern techniques to help achieve his aims: photography to freeze the action and composition, impressionism's theory of contrasting colors to give "zing" to the painting, and broad, simplified fields of color to build mass in a canvas.

Stimulated by its bold landscapes and powerful animals, Rungius influenced popular attitudes toward the American West. As he helped define "wilderness" in cultural terms, Carl Rungius: Artist, Sportsman provides us with the opportunity to explore the changing role of wildlife and the environment in twentieth century America. Carl Rungius: Artist, Sportsman will be on exhibit in the George Montgomery Gallery through June 15, 2003. Sponsored in part by Wells Fargo Bank and Friends of the Autry.

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rev. 9/19/06

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Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

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