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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The Panthers and The Nudes

Two bronze sculptures that just went on display at Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam Museum in the UK seemed to have finally given up their secret.

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Nude bacchants riding panthers” about 3 feet tall each (c.1506–08) (all images © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, unless noted otherwise)

Which one of these is not like the others. Proving who created this work, also referred to as the “Panther-Riding Drunks”, was long debated but ultimately the honors have gone to  Michelangelo one of the most recognizable and famous artists of the Italian Renaissance. However, when looking at his works like the “David” or the “Sistine Chapel” many refused to credit him as the artist that created these sculptures.

The Bronzes have been “attributed to various circles and schools since their first documented appearance, in 1878 in the collection of Baron Adolphe de Rothschild. The sculptures have been exhibited only a handful of times…but based on new scientific evidence, as well as close analysis…and an invaluable clue from a sheet of one of his disciples’ sketches, Cambridge University professor emeritus Paul Joannides and Victoria Avery, the keeper of applied arts at the Fitzwilliam, have attributed the puzzling pair to the Renaissance master.”

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Unknown draughtsman after Michelangelo Buonarroti, “Sheet of studies with the Virgin embracing the Infant Jesus” (c.1508) (Musée Fabre, Montpellier; ©)

Researchers Avery and Joannides state this drawing, made by an unknown artist after originals by Michelangelo, records the nude riding a panther on the lower right hand corner and “proves that Michelangelo was actively engaged with the very unusual subject of muscular nude men riding panthers and, he was doing so in the first eight years of the sixteenth century.

The work depicts a definite pagan subject  – Bacchus, the Roman God of wine, celebration, nudity and drunkenness.

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Detail of “Nude bacchants riding panthers” (c.1506–08)

While the figures seem to clash, anatomical and well muscled male nudes with stylized panthers that look like they were created from a mix of mythical felines, the researchers say that they way they fit together proves this work was created and intended to be a cohesive unit.

A beautifully odd albeit slightly humorous piece that may be Michelangelo’s only surviving metal sculptures

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Detail of “Nude bacchants riding panthers” (c.1506–08)

The length of time it took to credit Michelangelo with this work may have been partly due to the artists own documented views on bronze sculpture he had later in life. He did not look favorably on the medium and “classed it with painting, and was thus of a lower order than carving.”  Michelangelo’s aesthetic disclaimer had been “taken as gospel by the vast majority of his biographers and commentators” leading most to believe that Michelangelo was not a maker of bronzes.