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National Museum of Wildlife Announces Survival of the Fittest Exhibition

April 27, 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 will open at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on May 27, 2023. The exhibition will be on view through August 20, 2023. The exhibition title references Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which had a revolutionary impact on how people from Western cultures envisioned our relationship with the other animals on Earth. In the post-Darwin era, a group of classically trained painters now known as the Big Four emerged and helped establish a vision of wildlife and nature that remains with us today. German Richard Friese (1854–1918) is the Big Four’s elder, followed chronologically by Swede Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), German Wilhelm Kuhnert (1865–1926), and German-American Carl Rungius (1869–1959).

“These four artists came at a point in Western history where they were able to travel into the field and study wildlife in its natural environment. Back in the studio, they transformed those experiences into works of art that rang true to nature,” says exhibit curator Adam Duncan Harris, Ph.D. “Earlier artists didn’t have that opportunity or the cultural impact of Darwin’s scientific work.” Survival of the Fittest is the first major piece of scholarship to come out of the Museum’s multiyear Carl Rungius Catalogue Raisonné project. Presented with an accompanying exhibition catalogue, Survival of the Fittest will feature forty-five masterworks.

While other institutions hold significant collections of work by individual members of the Big Four, the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede, Netherlands, and the National Museum of Wildlife Art are the only two museums in the world to hold masterpieces by each member of the group. Survival of the Fittest brings together the best paintings from these two esteemed institutions for the first time. “It is a stunning exhibition that will visually impress visitors as it explores a range of topical subjects,” says Harris, who is also the Grainger/Kerr Director of the Carl Rungius Catalogue Raisonné.Survival of the Fittest contextualizes the work of the Big Four internationally within the frames of colonialism, Darwinism, art history, land and wildlife conservation, and Indigenous peoples’ ways of seeing nature,” Harris says. “It  addresses current conversations about large-scale land conservation, hunting, endangered species, wildlife-migration corridors, rewilding efforts, Indigenous visions of nature, and how alternate ways of understanding can provide valuable insight when thinking about humanity’s always-changing relationship with the wild.”

After its premiere at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Survival of the Fittest will tour to five additional venues across the United States.

Survival of the Fittest is generously sponsored by Val & Dick Beck, Lisa Carlin, Marnie & Tasso Coin, The Friess Wildlife Art Charitable Lead Annuity Trust, Howell A. and Ann M. Breedlove Foundation, Jill & Cheston Larson, Carol & Jim Linton, Mays Family Foundation, Bill Newton, Peggy Rose Schneider Endowment Fund, Maggie & Dick Scarlett, Caroline & Ken Taylor, Marcia & Mike Taylor, Thomas and Elizabeth Grainger Family Charitable Fund, and the Thomas Gilcrease Foundation.

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