Friday, September 19, 2014

Charles Livingston Bull

Charles Livingston Bull 
The preeminent wildlife painter of early twentieth century America, Charles Livingston Bull was a private, reserved artist, and gentleman. Analytical in nature and informed by his training and practice as a taxidermist early in his career,  CL Bull became a reclusive artist who exuded a soulful grace which emanated from a lifetime of attuned observation, contemplation and subsequent depiction of the character and motion of all creatures albeit bird or beast.  
Rocky Mountain Big Horned Sheep

 Not inclined to self reflection yet without exception he certainly would not have accepted  the contemporary levels of personal invasion- and misaligned criticism, critique and judgment which has become the pervasive norm for any public figure- literary, artistic or otherwise. 

Although Bull was a private unassuming artist- working from the privacy of his two acre animal filled compound on the outskirts of New York City- he was not ungracious to those with less or no artistic talent. Perhaps this was his secret, and his inherent gift.

Deer: Michigan Tuberculosis Association Poster c. 1931

Bull's uncompromising personal integrity speaks to a dignity recognized in old souls- those with the quiet gifts of a still temperament; an artistic temperament, and an unwavering moral code; a quality which is much reflected in his ability to render the integrity of the beast as witnessed in the elegant grace of teal’s flight or the majesty of the Ram in repose, or the boundary established by the Rooster’s stance or haunting tension of the hunter in pursuit of his prey.   
As a painter and illustrator working in the first quarter of the twentieth century Charles Livingston Bull’s oeveure was impressive; illustrating for publications such as Saturday Evening Post, McClure’s, The Country Gentleman, and the nature stories by the writers Jack London, Sir Charles Roberts, William J. Long and others with an estimated over 7000 images in nearly 150 books and articles, as well as paintings for advertising and propaganda posters, both commercial and governmental.

Yet despite his artistic foot print, and quite possibly due to his solitary nature, Bull holds a regrettably minor place in the pantheon of literature of the lives of the American Illustrator in the Twentieth Century. 
Influenced by the traditions of Japanese woodblock prints and the English Aesthetic; The Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau, and particularly the bold yet sinuous drawings of Aubrey Beardsley, Bull established an attractive style of linear and tonal compositions, and as book illustrations  were an appreciated precursor to the Golden Age of American Illustration which was ushered in by the talents of his friend and colleague N.C. Wyeth as well as Maxfield Parrish, Jessie Willcox Smith and J.C. Leyendecker, and others.

Under the Roof of the Jungle

CL Bull's monochromatic style of rendering the animal in the natural setting with charcoal and ink on paper- the perfect medium for the reproduction as a halftone for book illustration - all but established illustrated wildlife writing and the illustrated animal story as the most popular genre of the early twentieth century, and CL Bull was the chosen animal illustrator for many writers.

Every popular magazine of the day would contain at least one illustrated animal story, much in thanks to appeal of CL Bull's work. Despite Bull’s influence on this culture, his illustrations were never subordinate to the text.  His refined style displays the finest attributes of the aesthetic, and not simply the narrative, yet not void of the pathos or mystery of the tales of the hunter and the hunted.  

He was an illustrator of the highest rank, in the highest demand, yet his artistic aspirations and abilities were loftier, and thankfully were expressed in his elegant original compositions.  His work is now held in the permanent collections of the Brandywine Museum, the Glenbow Museum, Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum and the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

At Lowry-James Rare Prints & Books we have collected the work of this most under-appreciated artist Charles Livingston Bull for some years now and are pleased to offer a fine selection of his work, including six original charcoal and ink drawings from his Rochester, NY period- as well as the only book both written and illustrated  by Charles Livingston Bull and the nature stories of others, and scarce original poster art. 
We hope you enjoy the introduction to Charles Livingston Bull, and our offerings. 
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© Lowry-James Rare Prints & Books, ABAA
  September 2014