Wildlife Art

On my trip to Jackson Hole in September I managed to get a few hours to explore the National Museum of Wildlife Art. I was pleasantly surprised with the extensive collection of works that centered around the cats, making this visit one of my best museum experiences to date. I fell in love with so many sculptures and paintings that it is hard to list them all, but I recall a few of my favorites here.

The museum building, which is inspired by the ruins of Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, is surrounded by an incredible sculpture trail and houses a permanent collection of over 5,000 cataloged works focusing primarily on European and American painting and sculpture. If you love and appreciate art and wildlife, then this museum is a must.

The first piece of work, that I have essentially become obsessed with, is a massive bronze sculpture that greets you as walk into the gallery. At the top of the stair case on a rock wall a puma crouches ready to pounce. The work is titled Silent Pursuit by artist Kenneth Bunn.

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Kenneth Bunn, Silent Pursuit (1994), Bronze – National Museum of Wildlife Art

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The angle and lighting do not do it justice in these pictures but you can get an idea of how powerful and animated this sculpture is, in the photo below you can make out the eyes and muzzle detail along with the strong musculature of the cat. This is a prime example of why his work is held in such high regard. Imagine being greeted with this at the top of your stair case every day!

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The next work is one of the many paintings that feature the African lion. This is by Wilhelm Kuhnert a German painter who specialized in animals, of which lions were one of his favorites. There was something about the simplistic scene and pure detailed quality of the subjects that drew my eye. It resembles a familiar image that could have been captured during a photographic safari.

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Wilhelm Kuhnert, African Lions, 1911, Oil on Canvas

This piece by James Northcote struck me for an altogether different reason. The stark portrayal and dark beauty of two tigers imprisoned in a zoo, miserable and doomed for life deprived of all things natural. It elicited a powerful feeling of sadness and could easily reflect the reality of many zoo animals around the world today. The image of the second tiger looms in the dark and you can just make out its face in the painting. A Tiger’s Den could also be considered a snapshot of what the worst zoos were like for animals in the early days. The painting is of two boys, viewing tigers for the very first time at the Royal Menagerie in the Tower of London.

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James Northcote, A Tiger’s Den, 1816, Oil on Canvas

In contrast to the above work The Enchantress by Arthur Wardle, a British artist known for his animal paintings and studies, is romantic, whimsical and bordering on mystical. I see the subjects connection to the cats and control, notice the placement of her hand and how she holds the rope. The more you look the more you question the relationship between women and animal, it is definitely an image that is open to interpretation.

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The Enchantress, Arthur Wardle, 1901, Oil on canvas

Tiger Observing Cranes by French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme is bright and cheerful with an almost surreal quality. The tiger is regal, aloof, contemplative and exudes an overall calmness against a crisp blue sky and ocean background which would not normally be habitat that you would find this species in. Is he out of place here, or exactly where he should be?

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Tiger Observing Cranes, Jean-Léon Gérôme,1890, Oil on Canvas

Instantly recognizable Andy Warhol’s bright, colorful work is appealing and pleasant to the eye even when the subject is an endangered species. This is one of ten color screen prints in the Endangered Species Portfolio, which also includes animals like an elephant, panda, rhino and zebra. The signature style is memorable and raises the individual animal to the same celebrity status of Warhol’s human subjects. The endangered Siberian Tiger has become pop art.

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Endangered Species: Siberian-Tiger, Andy Warhol, 1983, silkscreen print

There were many works depicting mountain lions at the museum and this bronze sculpture titled Panther and Cubs by American artist Edward Kemeys, was wonderful to see as it depicts a tender and loving moment. The beautiful and gentle expression of the mother and content kittens is captured in an almost painterly fashion, details seen better in the second image, which help soften the hard material allowing the subjects personality and life to come through.

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Panther and Cubs, Edward Kemeys, Bronze, cast 1878

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Moving on to more modern works, this particular painting was another piece that I would have loved to been able to take home as I would never grow tired of looking at. Mountain Lion, by Britt Chauncey Freda is the perfect combination of abstract and realism all in one – all these factors along with the colors, had me going back to this painting a few times during my visit. I wasn’t the only one who liked it, I noticed that there was a sealed bid which meant some lucky person would soon be taking this beautiful painting home.

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Mountain Lion, by Britt Chauncey Freda , Acrylic and graphite on panel, 2017

My final favorite piece is another gorgeous bronze sculpture of a tiger by American artist Gwynn Murrill who sculpts amazing abstract animals without detail. She is known for her animal forms and very distinct pieces that portray movement and character in a beautiful simplistic form.

I was first introduced to her work a number of years ago while traveling through the Toronto airport where two of the tiger sculptures were displayed, but seeing this again reminded me how much I loved her work. She has a huge portfolio of cats big and small all of which are fantastic, so be sure to check out the link to her work. Some of the sculptures are even small enough to fit inside your home, although I would have a very hard time deciding on which one I would want to have.

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Tiger 2, Gwynn Murrill, Bronze, cast 2012

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Build a Cat

For cat lovers and Lego fans you now have the chance to build your own cat with JEKCA animal sculptures. They come in a variety of ‘kits’ and styles so you can pick your feline color pattern and whether you would like your cat sitting, standing or walking.

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Unfortunately, for those hoping to immortalize their own feline there is no customization available at this time, but you will have a number of different cats to pick from.

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If you haven’t played with Lego in a while no need to worry, assembly instructions are included with these sturdy and life-size works or art.

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There are a variety of other animals to pick from including the big cats like the lion and tiger.

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JEKCA is based in Hong Kong but ships their affordable and fun “blocks for kidults” worldwide.

The Lions of London

The Tower of London is known for its rich and rather dark history having been a royal palace, prison, fortress, place for executions and at one time a zoo housing a menagerie of animals including leopards, a polar bear, elephant, monkeys, zebra, ostrich and lions, most of which were given as ‘gifts’ from foreign countries to the monarchy. In 1937 two very well-preserved lion skulls were excavated from the Towers moat and later confirmed, through genetic testing, to be the now extinct pure Barbary lions. Interestingly the skulls were carbon dated back to between “1420 and 1480 for one, and between 1280 and 1385 for the other, making it the oldest lion found in the UK since the extinction of wild cave lions during the last ice age.” Lions being symbols of nobility and strength of the monarchy did not prevent them from mistreatment, and the skulls revealed evidence that they suffered from nutritional and physical stress which would have been in addition to the stress caused from their initial capture, transport to the zoo and a life in captivity.

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The Royal Menagerie zoo lasted more than 600 years: An illustratation of how the zoo within the Tower looked in 1816Daily Mail online

Visitors were allowed to view the animals and apparently during the 18th century the price of admission was “three half-pence, or the supply of a cat or dog to be fed to the lions.”  The collection of animals continued to grow and expand in species until it was realized that the Tower was no place to keep them. Suffice it to say the attitude towards captive animals, and animals in general was not very good, but as people’s views of animals in captivity started to change most of them, except for those in the private collection of Keeper Alfred Cops which were later re-homed in 1835 after a series of accidents, were sent to the Zoological Society of London in Regent Park in 1831 and early 1832 to establish the London Zoo. The Tower’s zoo was officially closed in 1835.

By current standards the conditions these animals were kept in must have been appalling or close to what we see in some of the modern worlds worst zoos. Thankfully the only remaining animals on the Tower grounds today are those made of galvanized wire.

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Tower of London: The 3 Lions  sculpture is located on the site of the original Lion Tower

To celebrate the history of the Royal Menagerie, contemporary animal sculptor, and a member of the Society of Wildlife Artists (UK) and a signature member of the Society of Animal Artists (USA), Kendra Haste was commissioned to create life-size replicas of the wild creatures that were once held at the Tower.

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“Royal Beasts” exhibit include lions, baboons, a polar bear and elephant – Image – Kendra Haste

These amazing and incredible life-like sculptures were created by using layers of galvanized wire, twisted and even painted to produce the results which give a sense of “a living, breathing subject in a static 3-D form.” The result can be seen in these photos, in person one can easily imagine them coming to life a haunting tribute to those creatures, victims of wildlife trafficking, who were imprisoned and perished at the Tower.

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Image – Kendra Haste

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Image – Kendra Haste

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Image – Kendra Haste

Currently on display until 2021, this incredible exhibit is a must see if you live, or will be in London, so be sure to check it out if you have the chance.

Fantastic Little Beasts

House panthers and tiny tigers, these are some of the names we give to our beloved house cats. The domestic cat has retained a close relation to their wild relatives and so much so that we often find ourselves drawn to breeds that exhibit the physical characteristics of the larger wildcats and, once such breed, the Maine Coon, comes as close as you can get to having a Lynx in your home

They are considered to be one of the oldest natural breeds in North America and are the official Maine ‘State Cat’. Their origins range from the mythical and ridiculous (domestic cats mating with raccoons) to the more plausible, they resulted from matings between long-haired type cats sent over by Marie Antoinette, or the Vikings. The Maine Coon is closest to, and resembles the Norwegian Forest Cat, which gives some credence to the idea that the Vikings may have been the ones to introduce the breed. Even if their origins are up for debate what we can agree on is that they are stunningly beautiful, fantastical little beasts.

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All Images – Robert Sijka of Felis Gallery

Photographer, and breeder, Robert Sijka has had a long time passion for Maine Coons and has combined that passion to capture the very essence of what makes these cats so appealing. Robert’s use of a black background, to photograph his two beautiful black cats named Dolce Vita and De La Loo, helped him create his signature style that showcases the breed in an elegant and almost otherworldly manner.

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Robert tells the Cat Behaviorist that the two black sisters, Dolce Vita and De La Loo are his personal favorites (he loves black cats) and are always up for a photo shoot.

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Robert also says that it took some experimentation to come up with his signature style, about several thousand photos worth, and playing with the cats before hand is key to capturing their wonderful expression.

 

For more of Robert’s photos be sure to check him out on Instagram and Facebook as Felis Gallery.

The Daily Catmute

Update! The Kickstarter campaign was a success – Cats are coming to a London Tube station!

If you are like millions of people around the world living in a big city you rely on some form of public transit to get around and, you probably would love to find some way to improve it. If you live in London and ride the tube you are in luck, as you now have a chance turn your daily commute into a daily catmute.

Citizens Advertising Takeover Service, or C.A.T.S, is a group of cat lovers from London who are part of Glimpse, a group of creative professionals who are trying to make “positive social change” feel more appealing to millions of people. One of their current projects aims to replace every single ad in a London tube station with you guessed it, pictures of cats. OK, you had me at cats!

The group has teamed up with Battersea Dogs and Cats home and Cats Protection in the UK to feature real stray cats, that are looking for homes, in the final posters. They are hoping to raise £20,000 with which will be enough to outfit a whole platform, in a small station, with cats and then expand the project if they raise more.

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Mock up of possible posters, which will all be unbranded – Image The Citizens Advertising Takeover Service (CATS)

The campaign is aimed at helping adoptable cats find homes, improving the daily commute and getting people to realize that they might not need to buy all the stuff typical advertising tries to sell us on a daily basis. Who says cats can’t be deep?

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“Your Cat Here” – Image The Citizens Advertising Takeover Service (CATS)

For £1 reward they will ‘stroke a cat for you’ and, for a £20 pledge they will design, print and send you a high quality postcard of your own cat starring in a London Tube advert as well as provide a digital image that you can share on social media. For the £100 reward level you can put your cat on one of the ads, their image will be placed on a small space on one of the posters and you will be emailed with the when and where of the posters location.

For the big spenders £2,500 will get your cat his or her own photo shoot with a professional photographer and an entire poster all to themselves – there are 4 spots left at this reward level.

Their Kickstarter campaign is currently running and ends May 21!

Portrait

On November 3 the ‘ultimate cat portrait’, a piece that was commissioned by millionaire Mrs. Kate Birdsall Johnson in 1891, will be put up for auction by Sotheby’s for an estimated $US 200,000 – 300,000.  Mrs. Johnson, who was reported to have 350 cats in her 3000 acre summer residence near Sonoma, California, was known for being a cat lover. She spared no expense and went so far as hiring servants specifically to care for them at the mansion. Indoor entertainment for the cats was provided by parrots and cockatoos and, each cat had a name that they responded to when called.

Austrian born artist Carl Kahler was commissioned to do the piece even though he had never painted a cat before. For 3 years he proceeded to sketch the cats getting to know his subjects before completing the painting and, when it done he was paid about $5,000 for the work. The painting was called My Wife’s Lovers and was purportedly given this title by Mrs. Johnson’s husband.

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My Wife’s Lovers The seated cat in the center was named Sultan. Mrs. Johnson found him irresistible and paid $3,000 for him during a trip to Paris. – source Sotheby’s

The painting made quit an impact and was even featured in the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893. It later toured through the US in 1940 eventually becoming so popular that a limited edition 9,000 prints were sold. In 1949 the painting was christened “the worlds greatest painting of cats” by Cat Magazine. After her death Mrs. Johnson left $20,000 to a relative to ensure care for the remaining cats.

More of Carl Kahler’s work, including horses and more cats, can be viewed here.

UPDATE: On November 3 the painting sold for $826,000 to a mystery buyer from California, this is considered both the largest and most expensive cat painting ever.

LA Graffiti – Cat Style

In anticipation of my trip to CatConLA later this week I will be featuring all things cat from California. While doing research, I came across an older news story featuring awesome cat graffiti that started appearing all over Los Angeles freeways and streets a number of years back. I don’t know if any of this still exists, but you can bet I will be keeping an eye out. What can I say, cats really do make everything better, even if only for a brief time.

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All images from Graffhead.com unless otherwise noted

Sometime in late 2009 people noticed cat images popping up all over the city, including freeway underpasses and the streets. According to GraffHead.com cats would appear and nobody, including city officials, could figure out who was painting them. By the looks of some of the locations the talented individual took some big risks to get his worked noticed.

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This is pretty insane, right in the middle of the freeway.

It February of 2010 it seems that there must have been some sort of graffiti war which resulted in some of the cats being painted over, but Graff Head reported the cats came back with a vengeance.

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The Cats Strike Back. Why would anyone paint over the cats?!

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It seems every cat has their day and sadly the graffiti stopped appearing and was removed from the streets and freeways. No new cats were reported but a few never before seen photos  appeared.

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Police finally caught up with and booked Rick Ordonez, the man suspected of the cat tagging spree. A graphic designer and former skateboard shop owner who went by the name Atlas. No surprise he kept cats as pets as was a cat lover. After being sentenced to 90 days for felony vandalism, LA’s Mid-City Arts approached him to do an art show, which he agreed to do while remaining out of the spotlight. When asked Why Cats? He simply answered “I love cats.”

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Vidoe of Cat Tagger – Kitty Litter – Los Angeles Graffiti