Canadian Rocky Mountain Artists

Alpine Artists is just one of the several sections in the new Gateway to the Rockies exhibition being developed by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. We want your input and feedback on this permanent (ten year life) exhibition that we are planning to open at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in the spring of 2012. Tell us what you think of this and the other concepts and stories featured here. Let us know how you think we could make this exhibition more interesting. Please keep in mind that this is a draft of the storyline, not the finished product. As the stories develop, information will be updated.

Listen to Michale Lang (Executive Director, Whyte Museum), discussing
the Cave Avenue Artists exhibition:


F. M. Bell-Smith, [Trestles at the Loop] (previously Kicking Horse Pass); 1890, Watercolour on paper, Collection of Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Painting the Parks
The national parks, and particularly the mountain parks, have and will continue to spark the imagination of landscape artists who capture on paper, canvas, or in other mediums, the incredible beauty of these natural places and contribute to our evolving national identity. For those who may have a chance to visit only once in a lifetime, their works provide another way to experience the gift of Canada’s national parks.

Canada’s National Parks and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) that linked the country from east to west were early instruments in establishing a sense of national identity in the 19th century. But it was art that ultimately brushed the finishing touches on Canada’s unique character.

In 1885, the CPR laid a ribbon of steel across Canada through the Canadian Rockies. The same year, a reserve was set aside around the hot springs at Banff, forming the basis of Canada’s first national park, Banff National Park. Other mountain parks and Yoho at Glacier soon followed, although it would be decades before Canada’s parks were expanded into a truly national system.

William Cornelius van Horne, the CPR’s general manager, saw art as an inspirational means to promote mountain tourism and Western settlement. By providing travel, lodging and other benefits to artists, he encouraged them to paint and photograph the mountain landscapes.

Some of the first artists to travel to the Rockies in late 1880s were John Fraser, Frederic (F. M.) Bell-Smith, Marmaduke Matthews, and Thomas Mower-Martin, artists influenced by European landscape traditions and the Sublime Movement in American art. They primarily used watercolour to paint picturesque, romantic views that reflected the scale and grandeur of Canadian landscapes and popularized the west.

Banff and the other mountain parks continued to draw artists and photographers throughout the twentieth century. Photographer Byron Harmon arrived in 1903, followed by artists Belmore Browne, Carl Rungius, Charlie Beil and Nicholas de Grandmaison. Peter Whyte, born in Banff in 1905, was the first native of Banff to become an artist. He met fellow student Catharine Robb, at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School in the late 1920s and after their marriage, they established a studio in their home and became the centre of a tightly-knit supportive artist community in Banff. Ultimately, they founded Banff’s Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in 1958.

With the inception of the Banff School of Fine Arts in 1935, Banff National Park became a magnet for artists from across Canada. Many great Canadian landscape artists taught and studied at the Banff School of Fine Arts, now The Banff Centre, from the 1930s until today. From Walter J. Phillips and A. C. Leighton to Robert Sinclair and Takao Tanabe — all of the artists who taught or studied here were inspired by the Mountain Parks. They, in turn, inspired the work of their students, contemporaries, and followers.

The Group of Seven, Franklin Carmichael, Lawren S. Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Frank H. Johnson, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald and Frederick Horsman Varley, were artists committed to exploring the unique character of the Canadian landscape and they developed a distinctive painting style that broke with English tradition.

Of The Group of Seven, only two, Jackson and Harris, taught at the Banff School of Fine Arts, although two other members, Arthur Lismer and J.E.H. Macdonald, painted in the mountain parks. Lismer visited only once in 1928, while MacDonald, sponsored by the CPR, spent seven summers painting in the national parks from 1924-30. He became a close friend of Peter and Catharine Whyte’s.

Contemporary artists continue to paint the parks today. Their paintings are modern interpretations that capture the mystery and beauty of the mountain parks and National parks across Canada. Robert Sinclair, for example, has painted in National Parks from Newfoundland to the West coast. His works, painted from memory, capture the symbolic significance of the landscape.

The national parks, and particularly the mountain parks, have and will continue to spark the imagination of landscape artists who capture on paper, canvas, or in other mediums, the incredible beauty of these natural places and contribute to our evolving national identity. For those who may have a chance to visit only once in a lifetime, their works provide another way to experience the gift of Canada’s national parks

This exhibition area will be designed to represent an artist's studio, inspired by Carl Rungius' studio that he called "The Paintbox."

The Cave Avenue Artists

Carl Rungius working on painting, [ca. 1950], Mary Schaffer fonds (V527 / lc NA66-1314),
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Three well-known artists, Carl Rungius, Charlie Beil, and Nicholas de Grandmaison all lived on Cave Avenue in Banff, Alberta in the Canadian Rockies during the same period of time in the early 20th century. One of these artists, Carl Rungius was world famous.

The artists who were drawn to the Canadian Rockies were all instrumental in helping to create a tight-knit supportive artistic community that helped to foster creativity. Though all of the artists in Banff at this time practiced different styles along with different artistic mediums, together they all managed to capture the beauty of the mountain parks and show the world what a unique place Banff and its surrounding area was. Charlie Beil, Carl Rungius and Nicolas de Grandmaison all lived on Cave Avenue in Banff during the same period of time.

Carl Rungius
Carl Clemens Moritz Rungius was born in Germany in 1869. In 1907 he married his first cousin Louise Fulda. Carl Rungius established a reputation as the most important painter of big game and the first career wildlife artist in North America.

Rungius demonstrated a passion for hunting from a young age, and it is this passion that would dominate his later life and be a tremendous influence on his artwork. From an early age, Rungius also showed ambition to be an artist. In his teenage years, an exhibition by Richard Friese, Germany’s foremost wildlife artist, helped reinforce this ambition. Rungius had several obstacles to overcome though before he would obtain his objective to become a painter. Rungius had a tremendous dislike for school and his father’s strong opposition to him becoming a painter. He managed to surmount both obstacles.

Rungius studied art at the Berlin Art Academy from 1888-1890. He increasingly spent his free time at the Berlin Zoo sketching and studying the animals there. Zoo animals were not subjects he could handle physically though and he could not get under their skin and see for himself how muscle, bone, tendon and tissue melded together to form the living animal. In order to get a better look at the anatomy of animals, Rungius made frequent visits to the local glue factory to study animal anatomy in its most basic form.

In 1894, Rungius' uncle invited him to come to the United States to pay him a visit and to hunt moose in Maine. Rungius was very excited about this prospect, and he jumped at the opportunity. Although the two never managed to see a single moose they did find plenty of white-tailed deer. Dr. Clemens persuaded his nephew to stay for another year and try for moose again next fall. Rungius accepted the offer and spent his winter painting the animals he had seen in the forests of Maine. Rungius decided that if he was going to become a serious wildlife painter, that he needed more experience painting wildlife in their habitat. In 1895 Runguis attended a sportsmen’s show in New York City. There he met Ira and Sarah Dodge who were a Wyoming guide and his wife representing the Union Metallic Cartridge Company. Before the show was over, the Dodges had invited Rungius to visit their ranch in Wyoming the following summer and remain as long as he wished.

Shortly after, in 1895, Rungius accepted the Dodges offer and travelled to Wyoming. His summer in Wyoming persuaded Rungius that the United States would be his new home. After his initial visit to Wyoming, he returned every summer and fall from 1896 through to 1902 (except for 1901), and then again in 1915 and 1920. Hunting was important to Rungius to enable him to be able to see animals up close and get a better idea of their anatomy. Carl’s schedule, established in the Wind River Range on 1895, was to explore and hunt six days, and to sketch, draw and paint on the seventh; “At first I went to those countries for the sport they offered…And then gradually I found that the painting, on the hunting trips, was becoming the important thing, and what mattered to me about the animals was not shooting them but painting them.”

After hunting and painting trips to New Brunswick in 1900-1909 and to the Yukon in 1904, Rungius’s fascination with the North American moose began. Rungius’s arrival in the United States coincided with The Conservation Movement. Several concerned sportsmen had turned their energy to correcting the deteriorating situation, the most noteworthy being Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a leader in The Conservation Movement, fighting to end the waste of natural resources. Starting in 1914, in collaboration with this movement, Rungius would begin a series of commissions for the New York Zoological Society that would see him paint at least one threatened animal species annually until 1934. The paintings, which were to be placed in the Gallery of Wild Animals at The Bronx Zoo, were large in format (mostly five feet by six feet).

In New York, William Hornaday, who was also the first director of the New York Zoological society, helped introduce Rungius to the wealthy patrons who were critical to his artistic success. Hornaday was responsible for many of Rungius commissions in the following years. Hornday also introduced Rungius to the lucrative world of illustration. Rungius started out by doing a lot of magazine and book illustrations. 1895 was a heyday for illustrators of magazine articles since a growing body of outdoor and sporting periodicals spawned by the conservation movement demanded good pictures and photography had not yet attained importance. During the years 1894-1902 Rungius was most active as an illustrator for magazines and books. Rungius had established his first studio in New York City in 1910. In his early years as an artist in the United States, members of conservation clubs, such as the Boone and Crockett Club and The Camp Fire Club, were Rungius’s best customers and helped provide him with a social and economic base to help him further build his artistic career.

In 1910, Banff tour guide Jimmy Simpson saw a reproduction of Rungius’s painting Wary Game, a painting of six Dall rams on a high spur of a wind-swept Yukon mountain ridge, in an issue of The Bulletin put out by the New York Zoological Society. Upon seeing the painting, Simpson declared “that fellow knows his animals and he knows his sheep.” Simpson wrote Rungius a letter in which he extended a generous invitation; if Rungius could get to Banff, Simpson would take him out on a sheep hunt at no cost. Rungius was skeptical of the offer and remarked “another guide looking for another customer.” It was his wife Louise, however, who believed she detected a gentleman’s tone in the letter and suggested that her husband write Simpson back. Further correspondence occurred and in early August 1910 Rungius and his wife packed up and headed west by train to Banff. After a few days of preparation in Banff, Simpson and Rungius took the train to Laggan Station (Lake Louise) where they packed their horses and saddled up for an extended journey north along the upper Bow River to Bow Lake, down to the Mistaya River to the North Saskatchewan River, up to the Columbia Icefield and over a series of passes to the little-known Brazeau River drainage. It was this area that Simpson had discovered was prime bighorn sheep country.

Rungius began to make regular trips to the Canadian Rockies near Banff in Alberta to sketch and hunt. He became so taken with the region that beginning in 1922 he and his wife, Louise, split the year between New York City and a studio and house in Banff that he called “The Paintbox” on Cave Avenue. Louise died in 1940, but Rungius continued to spend his summers in Banff.

Rungius said that “I could not think of any more suitable place than Banff in Alberta, a province which has practically every species within its borders. Easy to reach and a cosmopolitan, broad-minded town right in the wilderness, at the same time offering all the comforts of a big city. My wife who had been with me here a couple of times also liked Banff and approved the idea.” “The Paintbox” provided him an invaluable headquarters with access to some of the finest scenery Banff had to offer. Rungius remarked that “From my studio window I can see six bull elk every evening feeding on an open meadow; their horns are almost full grown, two carry magnificent antlers.”

For almost 50 years, Rungius’s routine consisted of working on canvasses in the Banff studio from the end of April through until the early fall months, then he and his wife would return home to New York around the middle of October. Rungius tended to make sketches and smaller paintings in Banff, but preferred to do the larger canvases back in his New York studio during the winter months. Rungius’ work is featured in museum collections around the world including the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, the National Wildlife Museum of Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands.

He died at the age of 90 in 1959. Rungius had his ashes scattered on Tunnel Mountain in Banff, Alberta. He loved the view overlooking the town and the Bow Valley.

Charlie Beil

Charlie Beil in his studio, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Charlie Beil was one of many artists who settled in Banff in the early 20th century. He is perhaps best known for the trophies that he created for the world famous Calgary Stampede. In 1939 Beil officially began his work for the Stampede. Gradually from that year on, he kept adding to the series of trophies until there were nine in all. These trophies, newly cast each year until 1967 when plaques were introduced, were sponsored by various businesses and were prized by those who were fortunate and skillful enough to have won them. The trophies awarded to the cowboys are almost the only duplicates of Charlie Beil’s work and it is almost impossible to collect items of Beil’s art.

Both Beil and Rungius were born in Germany, Beil in 1894 and Rungius in 1869. Beil’s father was a blacksmith, which may have sparked Beil’s interest in working with bronze as well as his interest in horses. Beil was just eleven or twelve years old when he left his home in Germany and for two years he worked as a captain’s boy aboard a nineteenth-century sailing vessel. He abandoned ship in Argentina and spent some years working with South American gauchos before making his way to North America and the Western Prairies. When the United States participated in World War One, Beil joined the U.S Cavalry in 1917 and was sent to Hawaii where he spent the next several years. After the war Charlie went to Glacier National Park in Montana where he worked as a guide. It was here where he met Montana’s famous western artist, Charlie Russell, an artist of the Old American West who acted as sort of a mentor to Beil. Russell helped Beil refine his art during their four-year acquaintanceship. Beil was a self-taught artist.

After meeting Russell, Beil decided to take some instruction and headed to Santa Barbra, California and enrolled in art classes during the winter of 1928. His formal art education lasted three months and it helped polish his natural talent. It is at the School of Arts in Santa Barbra that he took up the study of bronze casting. Russell said of Beil that “his sculpture is prized by all who hold the life and history of Western United States and Canada in esteem. Be it the curious, artistic eye of European royalty or the down-to-earth appreciation of a Western cowboy, the sculpture of Charlie Beil is regarded as the best.”

Beil came to Banff just to visit in the 1930s but he ended up staying. In 1940 he married Olive Luxton, who was a local Banff girl. After Charlie and Olive got married, they moved into a house on Cave Avenue which was to be their home for the next thirty six years. The Beil’s family home in Banff doubled as Charlie Beil’s studio.

On June 15, 1968, Beil along with Jimmy Simpson helped to officially open the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Charlie entertained the folks with a few of his favorite stories of old times in Banff—like memories of riding on horseback to the post office and taking two hours to get the mail. “It still takes two hours to get the mail,” he said. “You have to do a lot of living while you are getting your mail.” He said he regarded “this beautiful building as a great addition to the town, with its archival records of pioneers and their stories, which will be here forever.”

Beil passed away in his Banff home July 29 1976. His body was laid to rest in Mountview Cemetery. During his lifetime, Charlie Beil was the recipient of many prestigious honors throughout his lifetime including the Order of Canada (1937) and the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Award.

Charlie Beil’s studio, Peter and Catharine Whyte Foundation fonds, (V692/ F-1028) Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Nicholas de Grandmaison
Nicholas Raphael de Grandmaison was one of the four most important painters of First Nations subjects in Canada. Born in Czarist Russia into a family of French and Russian noble descent on February 24th 1892. His father died in 1900 when de Grandmaison was only eight years old. De Grandmaison was educated in Moscow and studied art, music, languages and history until he entered the military at the age of 19. When the World War One broke out in 1914, de Grandmaison moved with his regiment to East Prussia and captured, becoming a prisoner of war from 1915-1918. De Grandmaison had always liked art in school, and while he was in the POW camp, he started drawing his fellow prisoners, officers from England, France, Russia, and some of his captors as well. He ended up in England after World War One and studied art in London at St. John's Wood Art School. Some time later he traveled to Paris and undertook further art studies there. He used the money from a winning bet in a horse race to come immigrate to Canada in 1923 where he found work at Brigden’s in 1924, which was one of the larger commercial art firms in Canada. De Grandmaison stayed on at Brigdens until 1929, using his talents illustrating catalogues and other projects. While he was working at Brigden’s, he was also enrolled at the Winnipeg School of Art from 1923 to 1926 and from 1928 to 1929. He was originally an oil painter, but upon his arrival to Canada he switched to pastels in 1925.

On September 19, 1931 in Red Deer, AB, de Grandmaison married Sonia Orest Dournovo. Sonia was the daughter of a White Russian General, and a talented artist. Nicholas and Sonia settled in Calgary and had five children, many of whom also became artists.

He began painting first nations people in 1930 and it became his life-long passion. De Grandmaison and his wife traveled like gypsies to many reserves in order for de Grandmaison to paint. De Grandmaison said, “when I first came to Alberta, I wanted to see the Rocky Mountains and first of all I went to Banff. I’ll never forget my first impressions. I almost lost my breath. I just stood there, I felt small and full of wonder but if I was entranced with the mountains, I was transfixed by the faces of the Indians whom I saw at Banff Indian Days. The deep lines and the contours seemed as intriguing as the timeless look of the mountains. I couldn’t take my eyes off the faces of some of the older men and women.” By the 1930’s de Grandmaison had established himself as a successful and talented artist who was asking for and receiving between $500 and $1500 a portrait, which was much more than members of the Group of Seven were being paid for their canvases at this time.

De Grandmaison was commissioned to do portraits of First Nations subjects for the CPR. These portraits would be used for the covers of the menus used on the trains and given away to passengers as souvenirs. The CPR gave de Grandmaison train passes, which he used extensively over the next few decades. De Grandmaison wrote that the passes allowed him to travel at will across Canada, helping him in his quest to paint portraits across the nation.

The de Grandmaisons settled in Banff in 1939. They rented a cottage belonging to the Senator Lougheed, which they lived in for seven years. As the de Grandmaison family expanded, it became apparent that a family home was necessary. In 1947 the de Grandmaison family signed an agreement with a builder in Banff and their home on Cave Avenue was completed the following year.

By the 1950’s de Grandmaison realized that what he was doing was not only important to him as an artist but that he was also helping to preserve Alberta’s history. He began to collect information on his sitters, taping their meetings and assembling notes on their history. Through his portraiture, de Grandmaison has helped capture an important era of Canadian and American history. There are three noteworthy natives who sat for him: the last survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, High Eagle who de Grandmaison painted at High Eagle’s Pine Ridge South Dakota home when he was 97 years of age.

De Grandmaison also painted an elderly woman who was the last survivor of the Capilano tribe on the West coast, as well as Johnny Nelson who was the last surviving native scout in the U.S army. De Grandmaison’s pastel and oil portraits were authentic portrayals of real people from a time gone by. Nicholas de Grandmaison passed away at the age of 86 on March 23, 1978.

Nicholas de Grandmaiaon: Jimmy Simpson, Guide and Outfitter to Carl Rungius,
oil on canvas, collection of Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies


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