KING OF THE ANIMALS. WILHELM KUHNERT AND THE IMAGE OF AFRICA

OCTOBER 25, 2018 – JANUARY 27, 2019

Wilhelm Kuhnert (1865–1926) shaped the concept of Africa in both Europe and the United States more than any other artist of his time. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he was one of the first European artists to travel through the German colonies of East Africa, which were still largely unexplored at the time. During these journeys, his sketches of the animal and plant world were often created under difficult conditions; they later served as a basis for the monumental paintings he produced in his Berlin studio after his return. Although Wilhelm Kuhnert remains one of the most frequently collected academic painters to this day, his work is largely unknown by the broader public. 

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Der Jäger mit der Strecke, 1915, oil on canvas, 122.7 x 199 cm, private collection, photo: Marc Richter

The Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt is presenting the first comprehensive retrospective on the life and work of the Artist Wilhelm Kuhnert.

The exhibition combines studies and paintings from European and American museums, private collections, and Kuhnert’s estate with numerous prints and commercial graphics and publications by the artist. It represents a wide-ranging rediscovery an unusual artist personality of the early twentieth century. Kuhnert’s work is seen not only as a mirror of the history of art and natural science, but also against the background of the history of colonialism.

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Elefanten, 1917, oil on canvas, 121.9 × 218.4 cm, JKM Collection®, National Museum of Wildlife Art

KING OF THE ANIMALS. WILHELM KUHNERT AND THE IMAGE OF AFRICA

29.05.2018 | Wilhelm Kuhnert (1865–1926) shaped the concept of Africa in both Europe and the United States more than any other artist of his time. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he was one of the first European artists to travel through the German colonies of East Africa, which were still largely unexplored at the time. During these journeys, his sketches of the animal and plant world were often created under difficult conditions; they later served as a basis for the monumental paintings he produced in his Berlin studio after his return. The works were exhibited and sold internationally with enormous success. Kuhnert adopted an almost scientific approach while painting and recorded the characteristics of the animals and the landscape in which they lived with great precision. It is not surprising that his animal pictures were published in zoological books like Brehms Tierleben (Brehm’s Life of Animals) as well as in publications by Wilhelm Haacke, the director of Frankfurt Zoo, and in wall charts for school classrooms. His works even appeared on the wrappers of Stollwerck chocolate. Although Wilhelm Kuhnert remains one of the most frequently collected academic painters to this day, his work is largely unknown by the broader public. The Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt is presenting the first comprehensive retrospective on the artist’s life and work. The exhibition combines studies and paintings from European and American museums, private collections, and Kuhnert’s estate with numerous prints and commercial graphics and publications by the artist. It represents a wide-ranging rediscovery an unusual artist personality of the early twentieth century. Kuhnert’s work is seen not only as a mirror of the history of art and natural science, but also against the background of the history of colonialism.

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Wilhelm Kuhnert, Löwe, n. d., oil on canvas, 183 x 274 cm, Fort Worth Zoo, Fort Worth, Texas, USA, Photo: Jeremy Enlow

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Zebra, n.d., oil on canvas, 51.2 x 75.3 cm, private collection, photo: Jens Weyers

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Elephants, 1917, oil on canvas, 121.9 × 218.4 cm, JKM Collection®, National Museum of Wildlife Art

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Krieger auf dem Pfad vor dem Kibo, 1917, oil on canvas, 99 x 165 cm, private collection

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Landschaft am Ruvu, 1905, oil on canvas, 38.5 x 64.3 cm, private collection, photo: Jens Weyers

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Der Jäger mit der Strecke, 1915, oil on canvas, 122.7 x 199 cm, private collection, photo: Marc Richter

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Liegendes Nashorn, n. d., pencil, 25.7 x 32.3 cm, private collection, photo: Jens Weyers

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Verdächtiges Geräusch, n.d., oil on canvas, 37 x 53 cm, private collection, photo: Jens Weyers

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Löwenkopf im Profil, n.d., oil on canvas, 87 x 101.5 cm, private collection, photo: Jens Weyers

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Schlacht von Mahenge, after 1905, oil on canvas, 30 x 61 cm, private collection, photo: Jens Nober

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Askari, 1906, oil on canvas, 49.4 x 36 cm, private collection, photo: Jens Weyers

Wilhelm Kuhnert, Größenwahn, n. d., watercolor drawing, 15.2 x 22 cm, private collection, photo: Jens Weyers

Wilhelm Kuhnert, African Lions, c. 1911, oil on canvas, 162.6 × 127 cm, The Robert S. and Grayce B. Kerr Foundation, National Museum of Wildlife Art

Dr. Philipp Demandt, Curator of the exhibition "King of the Animals. Wilhelm Kuhnert and the Image of Africa", © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, photo: Gaby Gerster

Dr. Ilka Voermann, Curator of the exhibition "King of the Animals. Wilhelm Kuhnert and the Image of Africa", © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, photo: Gaby Gerster