"The Wounded Comrade" by Carl E. Akeley (1864-1926)

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Lot 26
"The Wounded Comrade"
by Carl E. Akeley (1864-1926)

Sold for £ 47,500 (US$ 59,004) inc. premium
"The Wounded Comrade" by Carl E. Akeley (1864-1926)
Cast in bronze in the round and depicting a wounded elephant supported by two others (the left tusk of the central elephant expertly repaired), the realistic base signed to the front The Wounded Elephant/© Carl E. Akeley, the rear stamped QHDN, Gorham Co. Founders, Cire Perdue
Approximately 24in. long x 12¼in. high


  • Provenance:
    Philip Percival (1880-1966), professional hunter and founding president of the East African Professional Hunters' Association, thence by descent to the vendor

    P.J. Broder, Bronzes of the American West, New York, 1974, pp. 247-249 (for another example)
    Victoria S. Schmitt, Four Centuries of Sporting Art, Mumford, New York, 1984, p. 142 (for another example)

    "The Wounded Comrade" was first produced in 1913 at the Roman Bronze Works, New York. According to the Gorham Bronze ledger (vol. 22), this bronze was commissioned on 9th May 1930 by Mary Lee Jobe Akeley, Carl Akeley's widow, at the Museum of Natural History, together with copies of two of his other pieces, "Stung" and "Going". The contract (E-1283) suggests that only one casting of each piece was ordered, with a later note cancelling the order for "Stung". The cost of "The Wounded Comrade" was $350, the total order costing $590. Gorham sub-contracted the work to Eugene Gargani & Sons, the founder of whom had worked at Roman Bronze Works before forming his own company in 1927. Between 1929 and 1934 they worked solely for Gorham, who were unable to produce lost-wax bronzes at their own foundry. A typed instruction states 'The Cast of "Wounded" to be delivered to Tiffany as near to two weeks as possible.' The tusk was expertly repaired by the sculptor Robert Glen at his foundry in Nairobi

    Cf. two other examples, both by Roman Bronze Works, sold at Sotheby's, New York: the first, Sporting Art, 30 November 2006, lot 31 ($132,000 including buyer's premium); the second, American Paintings, 3 December 2003, lot 134 ($237,600 including buyer's premium)

    Carl Ethan Akeley (1864-1926)
    Born in Clarendon, New York, and raised on a farm, he realised at an early age that his interests did not lie with farming. As a child he developed an interest in birds, and after teaching himself the art of taxidermy from a borrowed book demonstrated his aptitude by mounting a neighbour's canary at the age of 12. At the suggestion of David Bruce, an amateur taxidermist who lived nearby and who had probably taught Akeley, he applied to work at Ward's Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, New York, starting as an apprentice at the age of 19 in 1883. While here he began to formulate his own ideas for a more realistic method of mounting animals and also had his first major commission, mounting Jumbo the elephant for P.T. Barnum in 1885. In order to advance his education, having had only three years formal schooling, he moved to Milwaukee in 1886, taking a job at the local Public Museum to fund it. It was there that he created the world's first museum habitat diorama in 1890.

    In 1895 he moved to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, lured with the promise of travel to Africa. Whilst there he led two collecting expeditions, the first in 1896 to Somaliland in conjunction with the museum's curator D.G. Elliot, and came to specialise in mounting African wildlife, particularly gorillas and elephants. He also continued to refine his naturalistic technique, sculpting detailed mannequins for the skins he collected. In 1902 he married Delia 'Mickie' Denning (1875-1970), who accompanied him on his travels over the next twenty years as well as moulding much of the flora and fauna used in his scenes. In 1905 he set off with his wife on his second expedition, this time to British East Africa. Whilst returning from an unsuccessful day's hunting, he fired a chance shot into a moving bush, angering a leopard. Akeley and his guide decided to skirt round the bush and continue back to camp by crossing a dry creek bed, but took a wrong turn and found themselves cornered by the leopard in fading light. Akeley fired as the leopard pounced but managed only to graze it before running out of ammunition. Having turned away to protect himself, the leopard luckily seized only his right arm, and in the ensuing struggle he managed to strangle the leopard, with its skin becoming part of one of his later dioramas. It was also on this safari that Delia Akeley shot a world record bull elephant, which is still displayed in the Field Museum, and was given her "blooding" by the professional hunter R.J. Cuninghame.

    By 1909 he had moved to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and accompanied Theodore Roosevelt's safari in the same year, along with other famous hunters including Philip Percival. Whilst hunting on Mount Kenya with his team he was attacked and pinned to the ground by an enraged bull elephant. His porters having deserted him, he was only saved after his wife and two of his porters returned and carried him off the mountain. During his recovery, and while suffering from fever, he had a dream which was to become the inspiration for his greatest work, the Hall of African Mammals. Upon his return to America he started to model small clay maquettes of the dioramas for the Hall, and it was the first of these which was to become "The Wounded Comrade" at the suggestion of the financier J.P. Morgan, who reputedly pledged his financial support for the African Hall after seeing just that model. The resulting bronze was exhibited at the Winter Exhibition of the National Academy of Design in 1913, earning him membership of the National Sculpture Society. The year before he had also been inducted into The Explorer's Club, receiving the support of three of the club's seven founder members. On his form for qualifying he modestly wrote "explorations in Somaliland and British East Africa".

    The inspiration for "The Wounded Comrade" appears to have come from an incident whilst in Uganda, when his team disturbed a herd of over seven hundred elephant in dense forest, scattering them in all directions and forcing Akeley's group to shoot to avoid being trampled. Akeley, having escaped, recounted looking back and seeing that one of those hit had been a large bull, which had gone on twenty-five yards and collapsed. Six cows had stayed behind, surrounded the bull, and were using their trunks in an attempt to lift him to his feet. Most of his bronzes depict elephants, and all demonstrate both his remarkable skill and understanding of his subjects.

    In 1921 he set out on his fourth expedition, this time to Mt. Mikeno on the edge of the Belgian Congo to collect gorillas. Whilst there he had an epiphany which radically altered his attitudes, leading him to campaign for the area to be protected. This resulted in the creation of the Albert National Park (later renamed the Virunga National Park) by King Albert I of Belgium in 1925, the first of its kind in Africa. Akeley and Delia had divorced in 1923, and he married Mary Lee Jobe (1886-1966) a year later, a lady who had already gained a reputation as both an explorer and a naturalist. Together they returned to the Virunga Mountains in 1925, where he died after being struck down with fever. He was buried at Kabara, only a few miles from where he had first encountered a gorilla, which formed the basis for the sculpture, "The Old Man of Mikeno".

    Akeley led a remarkable life, both as an artist and an inventor. He was made a member of the National Institute of Social Sciences in 1916 for "making taxidermy one of the arts", with the president of the Museum of Natural History, Henry Fairfield Osborn, comparing his skill to the great classical sculptor Pheidias. He was also awarded thirty-seven patents between 1895 and 1921, and received recognition from the Franklin Institute for two of them: the cement gun, which became the basis for the shotcrete industry; and the Akeley camera, specifically designed for filming wildlife in its natural habitat. After his death Mary Jobe Akeley became advisor to the Museum of Natural History, helping to complete the hall which was finally opened in 1936, ten years after his death, as the Carl Akeley Hall of African Mammals. An Akeley award is still presented at the World Taxidermy Championships

    We would like to thank Samuel Hough for his assistance in researching the Gorham records
"The Wounded Comrade" by Carl E. Akeley (1864-1926)
"The Wounded Comrade" by Carl E. Akeley (1864-1926)
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