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The Surprise April 26, 2012  |  By Cathy Petrick

The photographer depicted in this painting thinks he is the sole witness in this chance encounter. The mother bear is nearby, however, hidden behind a boulder.  She too focuses on the cubs, and believes that her watchful duty is performed alone. The subject of interest for both the photographer and the mother bear is the two cubs. Goodwin’s point of view is larger: It includes the bear cubs, the mother bear, and the photographer. It also takes into account Goodwin’s own (implied) presence as witness to the scene depicted.

It strikes me that whenever we view wildlife art, the artist is recreating for us that moment of surprise. This painting provides another kind of jolt: as the photographer’s camera focuses on the bears, it simultaneously points at us. As we observe the artist through his art, he is also watching us.

Philip R. Goodwin (United States, 1882 – 1935), The Surprise (aka Reel Adventure), c. 1925. Oil on Canvasboard. 30 x 39 1/2 inches. JKM Collection©, National Museum of Wildlife Art.

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