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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.