4th Dec, 2022 2:00 EST

American Art and Pennsylvania Impressionists Featuring the Collection of Charles and Virginia Bowden

 
Lot 27
 

27

William Herbert Dunton (American, 1878–1936)
Grizzly Bear

Signed 'Dunton' bottom right; also pencil titled verso, oil on board
10 3/8 x 8 3/8 in. (26.4 x 21.3cm)

Provenance

Private Collection, New Jersey.

Sold for $302,400
Estimated at $30,000 - $50,000


 

Signed 'Dunton' bottom right; also pencil titled verso, oil on board
10 3/8 x 8 3/8 in. (26.4 x 21.3cm)

Provenance

Private Collection, New Jersey.

Note

We wish to thank Mr. Michael R. Grauer for confirming the authenticity of the present work, which will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of the Artist's work. A letter of authenticity written by Mr. Grauer will accompany the Lot.

For Maine-born, Art Students League-trained artist and outdoorsman, W. Herbert Dunton, the American West promised a near-inexhaustible supply of rich and varied subject matter. Following a successful career as an illustrator—for Collier’s, Harper’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan, and for adventure novels by the likes of Zane Gray, Harold Bindloss and Alfred Henry Lewis—“Buck,” as he would come to be known, had taken up painting in earnest by the mid-1910s. From his studio in northern New Mexico, and alongside his Taos Society of Artists colleagues, Dunton trained his eye on cowboy culture, the region’s unique landscape, atmosphere and inhabitants, and its distinctive wildlife.

Bears, in addition to deer and elk, figured prominently into the mature phase of Dunton’s career—a roughly decade-long span that would also see him soften his attitude towards hunting. According to Michael R. Grauer, McCasland Chair of Cowboy Culture and Curator of Cowboy Collections and Western Art at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City and author of the forthcoming Raisonné of the artist’s work, Dunton “mainly made ‘dry-hunts’” throughout the late 1920s and 30s, preferring instead to “’take’ game with a thumb-box of oil paints and small canvas panels.” Grizzly Bear, the result of one such outing, is an exemplar of Dunton’s highly-decorative, highly sought-after late style. Moreover, it, in part, reinforces the artist’s preoccupation with grizzly bears—a subject he hadn’t explored since Grizzly Bear on Rock in 1909.

The wildlife of the American West had long stoked Dunton’s imagination. In one of the artist’s many unpublished manuscripts, he confessed: “Bear! How my heart leaped and my pulse quickened as I sat, motionless and agape, drinking in those weird tales of an ancient past. For, to me, a bear seemed to belong to those bygone years of the screaming panther and skulking Indian with his war whoop and bloody tomahawk.” The present lot, featuring a mother grizzly and cubs against a tapestry of early-autumn Aspens, is generous in both natural beauty and nostalgia. Its rich palette and stylized forms belie a West that was all too quickly disappearing. Dunton, in works like Grizzly Bear, endeavored to preserve the life and landscape he cherished—in his words, “to hand down to posterity a bit of the unadulterated real thing.” Situating his bears within a forested interior, he abandons strict naturalism in favor of rhythmic lines, patterning, and silhouette.

Both fresh-to-market and museum-caliber, Grizzly Bear occupies pride of place within Dunton’s body of work and the history of western art. One of the founders of the esteemed Taos Society of Artists­—whose paintings, collectively, contributed to a mythology of the American West and its wildlife—Dunton’s affections for the region, and his commitment to documenting it with accuracy and sensitivity, arguably surpassed that of his colleagues. Grizzly Bear, housed in its original Newcomb-Macklin frame, dates to an important period. In both oil paintings and prints, bears figured prominently into the twilight of Dunton’s career. (At the time of his death, Crest of the Rockies, Grizzly, was being prepared by the New York lithography firm of George C. Miller.) The present work, uncommon in its depiction of a sow and cubs, is among Dunton’s most captivating late paintings, a companion to Black Bears (Denver Art Museum, c. 1927), Mother Bear and Three Cubs (Stark Museum of Art, c. 1934), and Out of the Shadows (n.d., Stark Museum of Art).

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