William Herbert Dunton (1878-1936) Camp of the Bear Hunters 32 1/4 x 25 1/4in (Painted in 1913.)

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Lot 40
William Herbert Dunton
Camp of the Bear Hunters 32 1/4 x 25 1/4in

Sold for US$ 83,750 inc. premium
William Herbert Dunton (1878-1936)
Camp of the Bear Hunters
signed, dated and inscribed 'W. Herbert Dunton '13 / New Mexico ©' (lower left)
oil on canvas
32 1/4 x 25 1/4in
Painted in 1913.


  • Provenance
    Sale, Jim Fowler's Period Gallery West, Phoenix, Arizona, October 23, 1983, lot 75.
    Acquired by the late owner from the above.

    El Paso, Texas, Panhandle Cattleman's Association Convention, Paintings of the Old West, March 1-4, 1914.

    S.H. McGarry, Honoring The Western Tradition: The L.D. "Brink" Brinkman Collection, Kerrville, Texas, 2003, p. 74, illustrated.

    We wish to thank Michael R. Grauer, McCasland Chair of Cowboy Culture/Curator of Cowboy Collections and Western Art, at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for his kind assistance cataloguing this lot. This painting will be included in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work and has prepared the following entry:

    William Herbert Dunton began hunting and fishing with his maternal grandfather in the Maine woods while still a youngster, often carrying a sketchpad along with his rod or rifle. He practiced amateur taxidermy and skinned animals whose pelts he hung on the wall of his "den." He wrote and illustrated hunting articles for The Amateur Sportsman, American Rifleman, and National Sportsman magazines, and three unpublished stories on hunting and wildlife, "Two Boys and a Gun," "Buffalo," and "Bear." During his first trip west in 1896, he hunted for nearly two years supplying meat for ranches, and continued hunting and guiding hunts for the rest of his life. Maintaining that a repeating rifle had no place in the field, and a crack shot himself, he felt that a hunter who could not kill with one shot should practice until he or she could. By 1905 he was working skillfully in watercolor and oil; usually sketching in watercolor during his trips west, to create "roughs," which he would enlarge and finish in his New York studio. Dunton continued to hunt big game and act as a hunting guide after his first visit to New Mexico in 1912. After moving to Taos in 1915 he supplemented his income by acting as a hunting and fishing guide. At one point, he was president of the Taos fish and game association. Writing to a client in 1926, Dunton discussed the source of his ideas for hunter, hunting, and outdoor paintings: "The inspiration for this canvas--as in my others--was my own trips in the hills. . . I have depicted no particular place--as I do in few of my canvases--changing the lines of those I see in nature to make a 'composition.'"

    Dunton insisted upon appropriate clothing and accoutrements in his paintings, although he never descended into accuracy for its own sake. In Camp of the Bear Hunters the axe handle leaning against the log (foreground left) and the saddle silhouetted against the campfire (foreground right) are "little things" that Dunton knew would appeal to outdoorsmen. The saddle is typical of Old West days with its "slick forks," small seat and high cantle, and the OK-style spurs hooked over the horn are a nice touch. Also appealing to hunters are the two rifles at middle ground right, reflected in the campfire-light. The left-most rifle appears to be a Winchester Model 1866 Repeating Rifle; most likely a .44 caliber as these are bear hunters. Sometimes referred to as the "Yellow Boy," a term coined by American Indians because of the bright brass frame, the Model 1866 was the first Winchester rifle. The right-most rifle appears to be a Winchester Model 1895 Repeating Rifle, one of the first successful box-magazine lever action rifles. The facing hunter wears a hat with a Carlsbad crease, favored about this time, and hob-nail laced hunting boots. The hunter with his back to the viewer sports a hat with a "Montana" crease, soon to receive world-wide attention as the type of campaign hat (chapeaux de cowboy) worn by American soldiers and Marines in World War I.

    Camp of the Bear Hunters also shows the influence of Frederic Remington on Dunton's work. Dunton recognized Remington as an "Old Master" of Western art. Some critics even felt that after Remington died in 1909 only Dunton possessed the "ability to carry on the work where [Frederic] Remington left off" and he was called "the Remington of the Southwest." Dunton pays tribute to Remington's interest in both nocturnes and hunting scenes, such as the National Cowboy Museum's Hunter's Supper, among Remington's hallmarks and something for which Dunton also became known. Camp of the Bear Hunters also reflects Dunton's friendship with one of the leading outdoor artists of the early 1900s, Philip R. Goodwin.

    Dunton's methods for using his "kills" as models in his work included posing an animal and allowing the animal to freeze in position, then sketching it. By the 1920s, with the disappearance of many New Mexico big-game species, especially bears, Dunton's hunting philosophy and methods began to change as he went on "dry hunts," wherein he would "take" game with camera and/or oil sketches. He spoke out against overhunting in a radio address in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1924, "Hunt But Don't Kill All." He said "...as I grow older, the shooting of big game grows less to my liking. Many times I've pulled down on a handsome animal and hated to pull the trigger--saying to myself--'You're too damned innocent of any wrong doing--too deuced handsome to kill. There's thousands of humans, for humanity's sake, I aught [sic] to shoot before I do you." Dunton's unpublished story, "Bear," speaks directly to his experiences in hunting bears and his admiration for the species throughout his life.
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