William Herbert Dunton (1878-1936)
William Herbert Dunton (1878-1936)

Going In, The Bear Hunters

William Herbert Dunton (1878-1936)
Going In, The Bear Hunters
signed 'W. Herbert Dunton' (lower right)
oil on canvas
39 ¼ x 26 ¼ in. (99.7 x 66.7 cm.)
Painted circa 1909.
Henry A. Caesar, Rumson, New Jersey.
J. Howard Smith, Rumson, New Jersey, by descent.
Edgar Widin, Westfield, New Jersey, acquired from the above, 1944.
By descent to the present owners.
The Popular Magazine, January 1, 1912, cover illustration.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Catalogue of the Tenth Annual Philadelphia Water Color Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1912, pp. 17, 169, illustrated (as Buckskin Joe).
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Tenth Annual Philadelphia Water Color Exhibition, November 10-December 15, 1912.

Lot Essay

William Herbert "Buck" Dunton, the sixth member of the Taos School of artists, painted masterfully rendered scenes of the American West. Not merely being an observer of the West, he was a genuine outdoorsman with a passion for the animals, land, and lifestyle of the men living on the frontier. As described by Michael R. Grauer, a scholar of Dunton's work, "unlike his Taos brethren, and his peers outside Taos, Dunton was an outdoorsman in the purest sense of the word. He was also one of the few American artists who was a participant in the West, rather than an observer or spectator of it, having worked periodically as a cowboy and hunter from his first trip to the West in 1896 and his first trip to Taos in 1912." (W. Herbert Dunton: A Retrospective, Canyon, Texas, 1991, p. 11) Going In, The Bear Hunters is a scene demonstrating this closeness and understanding of the relationship between man and the Western landscape. Grauer notes of Going In, The Bear Hunters, "[this] painting may be somewhat autobiographical as when Dunton first went to the West in 1896, he partnered up with a contract hunter for a while supplying meat to ranches in Montana. Bears and bear hunters always held a special place for Dunton." (in a letter dated October 18, 2012)

As the viewer looks through the snow covered ravine of Going In, The Bear Hunters, Dunton's keen attention to compositional design and academic training is evident. The cool blue plains of snow are broken up by contrasting warm burnt sienna hues of the horses and figures that lead the eye to follow the path of the bear hunters crossing the stream. The opposing angles of the rocky plains and cast shadows draw the eye back to the figures. The principles Dunton followed for composing his multi-figural works are evident in a letter he wrote to his friend, Texan artist Harold D. Bugbee, in 1922, "Study arrangement in mass, color, and line -- particularly line. You not only have the problem of making your [figures] in possible positions but you also have got to arrange them so that they form artistic masses along the lines of which the eye is unconsciously led through and back and fourth[sic] across the canvas -- never out of the picture." (as quoted in, W. Herbert Dunton: A Retrospective, 1991, p. 26)

Despite what must have been cold, rugged, and slippery terrain for the mounted bear hunters, in the current work there is a sense of well-being. Dr. Julie Schimmel observed in Dunton's figural works this "harmonious relationship among man, animal, and nature," and this harmony was also, "actually Dunton's own relationship with nature a reflection of personal experience." Another theme of Dunton's multi-figural works is that of the partnerships of the men working in the West, which is evident in Going In, The Bear Hunters. (The Art and Life of W. Herbert Dunton 1878-1936, 1984, University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, p. 56) The far rider appears to be turning around to check on the progress of his partner, as one of the hunters would never leave the other behind.

The bear hunters, who appear calm and steady in their search, are set against a snow-covered mountain landscape in a dramatic contrast of light and shadow, which is enhanced by the painting's harmonious color palette. The Bear Hunters, Going In exhibits Dunton's masterful and anatomically accurate rendering of figures on horseback. The hunter in the foreground is in a complicated pose as he and his horse descend the uneven ground into the stream, a demonstration of Dunton's academic training and strong technical skill as a draftsman. These elements come together in The Bear Hunters, Going In to create an authentic scene of hunters on the move that comes naturally from William H. Dunton's own personal experience of living and working in the West, while attentively observing.

This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work being prepared by Michael R. Grauer, Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs/Curator of Art and Western Heritage, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas.

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