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B&C Member Spotlight - Carl Rungius

By PJ DelHomme 

Wildlife artist Carl Rungius traveled extensively across Canada and the American West, sketching and painting the big game he encountered. His work showed city folks on the East Coast what they would lose if they didn’t take seriously a new concept called conservation. 


In 1895, Carl Rungius was a 25-year-old house painter in Germany. He trained at the Berlin Art Academy and spent much of his free time sketching animals at the Berlin Zoo. Needless to say, the young Rungius wasn’t living his best life. Then his uncle in New York invited him on a moose hunt in Maine. Rungius accepted. Even though no moose steaks made it to the grill, the hunt was a success—especially for those who appreciate wildlife, wild places, and the art that embodies both.

Rungius enjoyed his moose hunt and stay in New York, only returning to Germany to gather his things for a permanent move to the United States. While in New York, he attended a sportsman’s show where he met a Wyoming rancher and guide who invited him to see the great wide open of the American West. Rungius accepted that invitation, and that’s when his real adventure began. 

An Artistic Explorer’s Life 

Before Rungius emigrated to the United States in 1896, his childhood in Germany was absorbed in the natural world. He loved hunting, enjoyed taxidermy, and hated school. He was so interested in animal anatomy that he visited a local glue factory to study animal musculature and skeletal structure. 

Rungius sketching a Dall's sheep ram during his adventure with Charles Sheldon in the Yukon.

Once Rungius arrived in the United States, he hauled both rifle and sketchpad into remote areas for weeks at a time. In Wyoming, he stayed at the Box R Ranch in Cora, Wyoming, every summer and fall from 1896-1902 and again from 1915-1920. In 1904-05, he joined Boone and Crockett member Charles Sheldon in the Yukon to hunt and paint, illustrating Sheldon’s book, The Wilderness of the Upper Yukon

"In front of them were piled precipice upon precipice." A Rungius painting featured in Wilderness of the Upper Yukon.

The turn of the 20th century was pivotal in America’s conservation history. Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell founded the Boone and Crockett Club in 1887 to protect and conserve shrinking wildlife populations and the landscapes on which they roamed. They recruited politicians, writers, photographers, and painters like Albert Bierstadt and eventually Rungius in 1927 to educate the urban public about what the country could lose if they didn’t pass laws protecting fish and wildlife. At a time of rapid urban growth in the East, citizens and policymakers had begun to lose touch with the natural world. Painters like Rungius were crucial in reconnecting and sometimes reintroducing these folks to wild places.

Illustrating Conservation  

Early Boone and Crockett Club member William Hornaday noticed and appreciated Rungius’ work, introducing him to prominent sportsmen of the day, including Grinnell. As editor of Forest and Stream, Grinnell hired Rungius to produce numerous illustrations. “This was the golden age of illustration as well as the age that gave rise to the conservation movement, and conservationists like Grinnell used magazines to advocate the passage of laws to prevent the depletion of wildlife populations,” writes art historian David J. Wagner. “Grinnell, in fact, purchased Forest and Stream for this purpose.” Theodore Roosevelt commissioned him to illustrate a number of his books. His paintings, sketches, and some of Rungius’ wildlife sculptures reside at Sagamore Hill. 

Whereas artists like Bierstadt and Thomas Moran focused on western landscapes, Rungius placed wildlife like moose and grizzly bears front and center, painting portraits with rippling muscles and intense expressions. He positioned animals in their natural environment, from cliff-dwelling mountain lions to bull elk stampeding from a hunter’s smoking rifle. 

Later in his career, Rungius was commissioned by the American Museum of Natural History in New York to work on their ground-breaking dioramas. In 1939, he began work on the backdrop of a moose diorama depicting two full-body mounts of massive Alaska bull moose fighting. 

Alaska moose diorama at the American Museum of Natural History. Rungius painted the background. The foreground was created by George Frederick Mason with James Carmel. Taxidermy by Robert Rockwell.

Today, the largest collection of works by Carl Rungius is at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in the shadow of the Teton Range in Jackson, Wyoming. When he died in 1959, Rungius’ ashes were scattered on Tunnel Mountain in Banff, Alberta, overlooking the Bow Valley. Through his paintings, sketches, and illustrations, Carl Rungius brought the majesty and power of wildlife and wild places to the masses. In doing so, he helped create a conservation legacy, the bounty of which we still enjoy today.

A collage of Rungius paintings. From left: "I saw the bear slowing walking along the upper surface of the basin." Featured in Wilderness of the Upper Yukon ​​​​​​​(1904). The Days of the Bison Millions, American Buffalo in Northwest Wyoming (1917). Bighorn Sheep on Wilcox Pass (1912).

Calling all Collectors of Carl Rungius 

The entire collection of Carl Rungius’ finished paintings contains between 1,000 and 1,500 works. Many of those works are in private collections around the world, and Adam Duncan Harris is working to catalog those finished paintings. A former curator at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming, Harris is now the Grainger/ Kerr Director of the Carl Rungius Catalogue Raisonne, which means he is compiling a comprehensive list of all known works by Carl Rungius. If you own one of these paintings and would like to contribute to the catalogue raisonne, you can learn more about it here.

Rungius at work in his studio, 1953.

Member Spotlights

Boone and Crockett Club members have come from a cross-section of famous accomplished people whose lives and careers have written and recorded the history of this country since the late 19th Century. They have been naturalists, scientists, explorers and sportsmen, writers and academicians, artists, statesmen and politicians, generals, bankers, financiers, philanthropists, and industrialists. Their diversity of ideas and activities during their careers have made the Boone and Crockett Club rich in its fellowship and achievements. To read more member spotlights, just click here

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal


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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt