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Survival of the Fittest

Starts May 27, 2023 Buy Tickets

Survival of the Fittest: Envisioning Wildlife and Wilderness with the Big Four, Masterworks from the Rijksmuseum Twenthe and the National Museum of Wildlife Art

Exhibition open May 27, 2023 – August 20, 2023

On display at the Museum during the summer of 2023, Survival of the Fittest: Envisioning Wildlife and Wilderness with the Big Four, Masterworks from the Rijksmuseum Twenthe and the National Museum of Wildlife Art is the first major piece of scholarship to come out of the multiyear Carl Rungius Catalogue Raisonné project. Presented with an accompanying catalogue, it will feature approximately 50 masterworks created by an influential group of painters known today as the Big Four: American Carl Rungius (born Germany, 1869–1959), Germans Richard Friese (1854–1918) and Wilhelm Kuhnert (1865–1926), and Swede Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939). “The work of these four artists established a vision of wildlife and wilderness that remains with us today and had a tremendous influence on wildlife artists of the 20th century,” Dr. Adam Duncan Harris says.

Only two museums in the world, the National Museum of Wildlife Art and the Rijksmuseum Twenthe (in Enschede, Netherlands), hold masterworks by each member of the Big Four. Survival of the Fittest will bring together the best paintings from these two institutions and use them to explore colonialism, Darwinism, art history, land and wildlife conservation, as well as Indigenous peoples’ ways of life and seeing nature.

The artists of the Big Four, all working at the same time but in separate regions of the globe, broke new ground by emphasizing the importance of seeing creatures in their natural habitats, enacting natural behaviors. Their paintings were not science-minded engravings delineating the shared characteristics of certain species, nor were they narratives illustrating biblical passages or scenes from popular fables.

Though they emerge from and find context within these scientific and narrative backgrounds, their artwork did something remarkably different, presenting an emerging vision of wildlife that valued the animal and its habitat as two parts of a greater whole, inseparable and interdependent elements of the wild. This exhibition brings an international lens to important art and nature-related topics, examining the interchange between visual arts and environmental thinking across traditional boundary lines. This exhibit addresses current conversations about large-scale land conservation, hunting, endangered species, wildlife migration corridors, and rewilding efforts, particularly focused on the locations each artist chose to depict.

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