At a time when the majority of animal artists were painting their motifs from captive wildlife, Wilhelm Kuhnert distinguished himself from his contemporaries (and indeed his teacher, Paul Meyerheim) by travelling to sketch animals in their natural habitats. He travelled extensively in the Far East and Africa, recording the dates and places he visited in his diary and making hundreds of charcoal and pencil studies of the animals he saw. Upon returning to Germany, he then completed the works in his studio, drawing upon his experiences and first-hand knowledge gathered from his adventures.
On the warpath (catalogue raisonné no. 6458), is a work produced by an artist at the height of his abilities. The unremitting African heat reaches out the viewer from the canvas, while the scorched bush, golden from the sun's unforgiving gaze, communicates the primal intensity of the landscape. The lion and lioness stand regal and statuesque, king and queen of all they survey, their attention drawn to a fixed point on the horizon. Both lions are aware of a scent in the air, perhaps - as the title implies - a rival pride, a potential threat to their territory. Alternatively one can interpret the lions as having picked up the scent of a herd of zebra or other such prey. Either way, the artist depicts a moment of calm, beauty and tranquility, with a subtle insinuation of the action to come. Masterfully Kuhnert leaves the viewer to contemplate the scene, and decide where the narrative is to go, as quite possibly as he too once would have done. The preparatory pencil sketch (catalogue raisonné no. 2439) was made in Ruhudji, now Tanzania, during Kuhnert's third East Africa trip in 1911, and formed the basis for the present work, which the artist worked upon after returning to his studio and completed in 1913.
We are grateful to Dr Grettmann-Werner for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.