Carl Rungius left his home in Berlin in 1894 to come to the United States to roam, hunt and paint America’s big game animals. For the next fifty years, Rungius developed an expressive, dramatic approach to depicting America’s high country game animals on canvas, rooted in naturalism but not at all photographic. Rungius’s skills grew through his association with naturalists like Caspar Whitney and William Hornaday, the director of the New York Zoological Society (now the Bronx Zoo). His long trips to the Rockies, Alberta and the Yukon in the first decade of the 20th century gave rise to his signature style, a style on view in full flower in Old Men on the Ram River. As wonderful as the three curious Rocky Mountain Bighorn rams at lower right in the painting are, ambling down and toward the viewer–the two at right have noticed us already–it’s the ram at left, that wandering refusnik ovine looking back and up at the high peaks that really interests me. He seems like a stand-in for Rungius, Rungius the artist, standing a bit apart from the crowd, looking up at that trough in the mountains where the shadow falls, wondering what’s on the other side. Rungius does a wonderful job here, building the painting wide stroke by wide stroke, moving blocks of color through moss, rocks, and slopes, and getting the sheen on the coats just right.
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