William Herbert (Buck) Dunton (American, 1878-1936)
The Water Hole
Signed "W. Herbert Dunton/N.M." l.l., titled on a typewritten gummed label affixed to the stretcher.
Oil on canvas, 24 x 36 in. (61.0 x 91.5 cm), framed.
Condition: Lined, vertical line of retouch to the right-hand side, craquelure with scattered paint losses.
Provenance: Purchased by Eugene Greuenwald of Iowa in the late 1920s, likely while on a family road trip out West; then by family descent.
N.B. Although he was born in Maine, Dunton is associated with the Taos School in New Mexico. As a boy he explored the Maine woods around Augusta, alternately hunting and sketching. The keen linear observations he drew of the natural world from his Maine childhood made him a natural illustrator, and by age 16 he had sold several of his drawings to publications in Boston. His family, seeing his obvious talent for drawing wildlife in its natural habitat, encouraged his art. He eventually studied in both Boston and New York. It was his friendship with Ernest Blumenschein that drew him to the Southwest.
Many of his contemporaries in Taos were interested in depicting the life and landscapes of the indigenous people, but Dunton was more enamored with the life of the cowboy. His illustrations, especially for Zane Grey novels, made his reputation, but in Taos his focus was largely on painting, and he accepted few illustration commissions. If the focus of his subject matter differed from his local colleagues, his goals did not. At the beginning of the 20th century artists were keenly aware of the changing world around them, and sought to capture and document the ways of life that seemed to be vanishing before their eyes. Dunton, an avid outdoorsman since his childhood, made it part of his mission to depict the ways of cowboy life, as well as the vanishing herds of antelope and bison.
This work is being sold to benefit the International House of Rhode Island in Providence.
There is a faint stamp on the frame backing cardboard that includes an ink annotation of "May, 1977." The stamped information is only partially legible, but one can discern "...PNEUMATIC LINING PROCESS." The works seems to be wax lined onto a rigid support.
Frame is likely original. Dimensions of the frame are 27 1/2 x 39 1/2 in.
N.B. Part 2 - Skinner recently received an email from Michael R. Grauer, McCasland Chair of Cowboy Culture/Curator Of Cowboy Collections and Western Art, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, confirming that this work will be included in the Dunton catalogue raisonné. Mr Grauer wrote the following paragraphs in his email, which are reproduced with his permission. We extend our thanks to him for his assistance.
"Dunton first went West in 1896 to cowboy in Montana, and cowboyed or hunted from there to Old Mexico until 1911. He used his sketches from these times to create paintings in his Boston, New York, and New Jersey. After first visiting Taos in 1912, he moved there in 1915, but continued hunting and fishing with cowboys, Taos Indians, and hunting guides.
"Your painting is based on Dunton's outdoor life as well as his practice of painting from models on horseback. From about 1909 to about 1918, Dunton painted en plein air lone cowboys, vaqueros, or Indians, or groups of cowboys, vaqueros, or Indians. These paintings probably often incorporated the same models. In these paintings Dunton toyed with the dissolution of forms through dynamic brushwork, common to impressionist painting.
"Having been a studio painter formerly, Dunton promoted his role as a plein-air--and therefore avant-garde-painter after 1912. The New York Herald (1914) reported that "he paints right out of doors - begins, finishes and even signs his paintings out in the open." And Scribner's (1916) noted that Dunton "believes in painting direct from nature, and spares himself no trouble to get his effects, setting forth at times with models and half a dozen ponies . . . to paint them in a wind-storm, with his canvas anchored against the stiff breeze by big boulders."
"Dunton used a very high-keyed pastel palette for his paintings in the late 'teens, of which group At the Water Hole is an excellent example. In fact, in about 1918 he painted a series of canvases using white horses and cowboys as the vehicle/mediating figures. See attached. Therefore, I would date your painting to 1918.
"Dunton's rendering of the sagebrush and cowboys in the foreground of At the Water Hole demonstrate just how fair he took the melting of forms using strategies common to impressionist painting. We also see in the sagebrush, sky, and clouds in the background show an almost pointillist brushstroke. Moreover, the posing of the cowboys against a bright blue, pale green, and cream colors puts At the Water Hole squarely in the camp of American artists such as Winslow Homer who used what scholar William H. Gerdts has called the "glare aesthetic." Finally, the clean-cut, square-jawed look of the models also presages Dunton's illustrations for the 1921 special edition of Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage.
"At the Water Hole also shows the influence of Frederic Remington on Dunton's work. Dunton recognized Remington as an "Old Master" of Western art. Some critics even felt only Dunton possessed the "ability to carry on the work where [Frederic] Remington left off" and he was called "the Remington of the Southwest." Dunton pays tribute to Remington's later, more impressionist work in this painting.
"Finally, Dunton exhibited a 12 x 16 in. version of At the Water Hole at the Salmagundi Club in New York called The Waterhole. Dunton often made multiple versions of the same composition in graduating sizes. So, it is likely there is a third version in 16 x 20 in.
"If At the Water Hole can be successfully conserved, it is a museum-quality Dunton painting and would be an excellent addition to any Western art collection. However, I have seen this type of damage before and it requires only the best certified paintings conservator to rescue it."
Items may have wear and tear, imperfections, or the effects of aging. Any condition statement given, as a courtesy to a client, is only an opinion and should not be treated as a statement of fact. Skinner shall have no responsibility for any error or omission.