Wilhelm Friedrich Kuhnert (German, 1865-1926) Löwen in der Steppe 30 1/4 x 56 1/2in (76.9 x 143.5cm)

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Lot 72W
Wilhelm Friedrich Kuhnert
(German, 1865-1926)
Löwen in der Steppe 30 1/4 x 56 1/2in (76.9 x 143.5cm)

Sold for US$ 162,575 inc. premium
Wilhelm Friedrich Kuhnert (German, 1865-1926)
Löwen in der Steppe
signed 'Wilh. Kuhnert' (lower left); signed and inscribed 'Wilhelm Kuhnert / Berlin / "Löwen in der Steppe" (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
30 1/4 x 56 1/2in (76.9 x 143.5cm)


  • Provenance
    Sale, Christie's, South Kensington, Wildlife Art, 5 June 1997, lot 437;
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.

    This large and impressive canvas by Wilhelm Kuhnert, Löwen in der Steppe, embodies all the untamed ferocity of the "king of the savanna". The lion stands beside his resting mate while surveying the vast landscape in a rocky bush with tangled branches under subtle pink and light blue hues on the horizon. The artist creates a panoramic landscape using a poly-chromatic palette and skilled brush work to artistically express the intense natural light and texture of the dessert plains.

    Wilhelm Kuhnert was born in Oppeln (now Poland) in 1865 and became a scholarship student at the University of Berlin. His attraction to painting wildlife was instinctive and led him initially to the zoo animals of Dresden and Berlin. With the encouragement of his teacher Paul Meyerheim, soon Kuhnert became drawn to the wild open spaces of German settlements of East Africa where he observed and studied these great animals in their natural habitat. Whilst in Africa he sketched animals and terrains profusely and then worked up completed compositions in his studio in Berlin. Lions were always his most favored wildlife subject, which led to his being referred to as "Lion-Kuhnert." The artist's paintings were soon desired by sophisticated wildlife art collectors not only in Europe but also in the United States.

    Wilhelm Kuhnert spent a lot of his time working with lions, exploring their anatomy and behavior. His extensive knowledge has been documented by countless sketches, while his oil paintings earned him the honorary name of "Löwen-Kuhnert". He studied the lions since the beginning of his studies in 1883 in zoos and on his expeditions in East Africa from 1891, when he was able to acquire accurate knowledge of their habitat. Until that time, the knowledge of the natural habitat of lions was very rudimentary, so that even Professor Paul Meyerheim at the Berliner Akademie der Künste advised him to build a desert model out of sand and charcoal pieces.

    The present painting of a pair of lions in the savanna is based on various sketches of sitting lionesses and lions, such as WV No. 919 and WV No. 1240. These sketches depict sitting animals looking attentively into the steppe or roaring. It was important for Kuhnert to understand how the proportions of the sitting animal change with a slight rotation of the body.

    Several sketches found in Kuhnert's estate are largely establishing the final motif of the later oil painting. In the WV No. 591 six individual designs for oil paintings with different lion motifs can be seen.
    One of the sketches is comparable to the present oil painting: a steppe landscape with a tree in the background and a lion sitting on its hind paws, looking to the left. In front of him at left lies a lioness on a slight diagonal. The present painting, however, shows the two animals reversed, the lioness rests with almost the entire body behind the male animal and the savanna has a different treatment and effect than the pencil sketch due to the use of oil colors. By abandoning the tree in the background, Kuhnert achieved a greater depth effect of the landscape than the comparable pencil sketch. According to the type of painting and signature, this oil painting is dated between 1917 and 1926.

    This oil painting, recorded as WV No. 3749, with the motif of a lion couple during the drought in the steppe is a wonderful example of Kuhnert's excellent knowledge of the anatomy of the lions, but also of the life of the animals in their very own biotope, painted in the splendid colors of the East African landscape.

    We are grateful to Dr. Angelika Grettmann-Werner for confirming the authenticity of this work and for contributing to the catalogue note. The work will be included in her forthcoming Kuhnert catalogue raisonné (WV No. 3749).
Wilhelm Friedrich Kuhnert (German, 1865-1926) Löwen in der Steppe 30 1/4 x 56 1/2in (76.9 x 143.5cm)
Wilhelm Friedrich Kuhnert (German, 1865-1926) Löwen in der Steppe 30 1/4 x 56 1/2in (76.9 x 143.5cm)
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