America’s first wildlife conservation organization, the Boone and Crockett Club, had among its ranks in the nineteenth century two major American artists, one the grand-manner painter, Albert Bierstadt, and the other the animalier sculptor, Alexander Phimister Proctor. Bierstadt was a charter member, listed in the minutes of the club’s first meeting in 1888. Proctor came to the club five years later, in 1893. They were both invited to join the distinguished and select group because of their prowess as hunters of North American game, and they both remained members for the rest of their lives.
Bierstadt had hunted moose on the New Brunswick–Maine border in 1880 and had returned with a record trophy head. The mount’s antlers measured an impressive 64 ¼ inches across. The artist proudly presented it to the New York Zoological Society.1 Although Bierstadt’s guide, rather than the artist, had actually shot the moose, the mount was well-established in the club’s literature as the “Bierstadt Head.”2 [Fig. 1] So enthralled was the painter with his feat as a sportsman that he produced not one, but at least three important paintings of the subject of his crowning hunting achievement. [Fig. 2]
Proctor was an even more zealous hunter of big game than Bierstadt. When Proctor’s initial major commission came along–to sculpt in plaster a half-dozen heroic-sized western animals for the bridge abutments at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition, moose were an important part of his submission. His monumental moose seemed a bit weighed down by the heft of their antlers, but the public and critics nonetheless responded favorably with such comments as “few things in the entire exposition were more interesting or impressive than those great motionless creatures.”3 [Fig. 3]
Proctor revisited the moose theme after he joined the ranks of Bierstadt by harvesting a trophy-sized bull of his own in 1902. His prize came from the Canadian Northwest. When he shipped the rack home, it was claimed to be “the biggest moose ever brought to New York, and…probably the largest ever killed.”4 The antlers, though measuring only 40 1/2 inches across, [Fig. 4] were nonetheless loaned to the American Museum of Natural History. The moose was of such magnitude that Proctor’s friend and fellow Boone and Crockett Club member, Gifford Pinchot, began to pressure the artist for a sculptured version of the beast. They decided on a large bas-relief bronze overmantel picturing not only Proctor’s bull but a whole family of moose. Proctor completed two castings of what he called Moose Family in 1906, after much fussing with the composition and special problems with patination and the positioning of the calf on the right.5 [Fig. 5]
In the course of developing Pinchot’s Moose Family, and possibly as part of the process, Proctor began to conceive a three-dimensional portrait of his bull moose. By 1907 he had copyrighted and probably cast a bronze or two of what he titled simply Moose. [Fig. 6] The beast is alert and majestic though a little inert in its pose. The animal’s antlers, unlike in the similarly posed Columbian Exposition plaster monuments, are substantially uplifted, almost perky, and are so impressive that they nearly dwarf their host.
Relatively few castings of Proctor’s Moose are identified today. Only four lifetime bronzes and one pattern are known. Fellow animalier artist Carl Rungius successfully hunted moose in New Brunswick around 1905 and produced at that time a sculptural portrait of the animal in bronze with Roman Bronze Works. It was titled Alert and, despite Theodore Roosevelt purchased a casting (Sagamore Hill, National Historic Site), the work was not commercially viable.6 Henry Mervin Shrady, whose Bull Moose [Fig. 7] had been quite successful early in the decade and had even found its way onto the grounds of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, in 1901 as a monumental plaster decoration, perhaps saturated the market.
It was uncannily close in pose and portrayal to Proctor’s 1893 Moose monuments from the Columbian Exposition. All three artists, Proctor, Rungius, and Shrady, irrespective of their artistic inspiration, motivation, and popularity, were responding to cautionary claims that the moose was about to become extinct.7 Such sentiments generally seemed to help sell art, but the results in this case were uneven.
By Peter H. Hassrick
- Gordon Hendricks, Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1973), 264 – 265.
- On who shot the moose, see Eric W. Nye and Sheri I. Hoem, “Big Game on the Editor’s Desk: Roosevelt and Bierstadt’s Tale of the Hunt,” New England Quarterly, 60 (September 1987). The mounted head is illustrated in one of the club’s early histories, George Bird Grinnell (ed.), American Big Game in Its Haunts: The Book of the Boone and Crockett Club (New York: Forest and Stream Publishing Company, 1904), 384.
- Lorado Taft, quoted in “Portland’s Art Tastes Commended by One of the Great Animal Sculptors,” Portland Sunday Oregonian (December 17, 1911).
- “Largest Bull Moose Killed in Canada by a Sculptor,” New York World (May 26, 1902).
- Hassrick, Peter H., Wildlife and Western Heroes, 137.
- Jon Whyte and E.J. Hart, Carl Rungius: Painter of the Western Wilds (Calgary: Glenbow-Alberta Institute, 1985), 62 – 63.
- See Thayer Tolles and Thomas Brent Smith, The American West in Bronze (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013), 71 – 72.