Charles Livingston Bull, Wildlife Artist

 

A TRIBUTE TO CHARLES LIVINGSTON BULL, “AMERICA’S PREMIERE WILDLIFE ARTIST!”

 

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I first saw the fierce, exhilarating drawings of American wildlife artist Charles Livingston Bull in an old hardcover copy of HAUNTERS OF THE SILENCES, by Canadian author Charles G D Roberts.

I had discovered the animal stories of Roberts in our elementary readers, amazed that such realistic (and violent) tales of wild creatures were mixed with otherwise child-centered stories.  Perhaps it was because Roberts wrote a lot about our own New Brunswick forests.  Or perhaps it was because Sir Charles G D Roberts had once been a worldwide best selling author.  Or maybe… [1]

I raided the libraries for more of Roberts’ books.  THE KINDRED OF THE WILD.  And THE WATCHERS OF THE TRAILS.  And in those thrilling books were also fantastic line drawings by that artist named Charles Livingston Bull.

In fact, as I read more books — some from the Libraries, some given to me by local folks who appreciated my love of these old pastoral stories — I came to expect the “Illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull” byline, and thought that those drawings were perfect renditions of the animals and forests that lived right outside our own back door.

I not only saw his artwork in other Roberts’ books like THE HOUSE IN THE WATER and THE RED FOX, but in wilderness-set works by other writers such as IN THE BROODING WILD and THE HOUND FROM THE NORTH by Ridgwell Cullum.  And NOMADS OF THE NORTH by James Oliver Curwood.   And a real personal fave: FLASH THE LEAD DOG by George Marsh.

 

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In fact, it was a real surprise when I discovered wildlife books that WEREN’T illustrated by by Bull, but by others.  Yes, there were other artists in those old books:  N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Arthur Heming, Paul Bransom, Jessie Willcox Smith, Charles Copeland, J C Leyendecker, Carl Rungius, Henry S Watson and Frank E Schoonover.  And I liked ’em all. [2]

But not quite as much as Charles Bull.  There was a kind of vitality in those lines of black ink: those animals, whether in lazy repose or savage action, lived and breathed right there on the page.  And his wilderness settings — with their trees, rocks, bushes — I knew those landscapes: I had walked there.

And I began to wonder, “Who is this Bull guy?”

 

charles livingston-bull-illustrator-bio

 

Charles Livingston Bull (1874- 1932) has been remembered as “the premier wildlife artist of his time in America, perhaps the best of his kind in the world. He drew and painted realistic animals, a subject he explored through literature.” [3]

He was born in West Walworth, in New York State, at that time a farming and dairy area.

Charles loved drawing from earliest childhood.  In an interview, he said, “My mother says that from the time I was four years old, I could draw any animal I saw, and draw it fairly well, too.”  [4]

But when his father heard of his artistic endeavors, Charles was informed that he should get a real job.  His father apprenticed him to a taxidermist.  Although the young artist was still able to take free evening drawing classes at the Rochester Athenaeum & Mechanic’s Institute.

“When I was sixteen years old, I went to work in Ward’s Museum in Rochester, New York.” explained Charles in another, rare interview. [5]

“This museum preserved skins and mounted animals and birds for exhibits. My job, at the start, was scraping the inside fat and grease off of animal skins. It was a smelly job that brought me an income of three dollars a week.

“From Ward’s Museum I went to the National Museum in Washington, D. C, where I was a full-fledged taxidermist. For ten or twelve years I studied anatomy of animals and birds, and then I was ready to make some pictures.”

Ready to pursue his artistic dream, Charles quit his National Museum job and moved to New York City.  For many years he would live right across the street from the Bronx Zoological Gardens, where he went almost daily to observe and draw the animals.  At that time, the Bronx Zoo was designed around a circular sea lion pool, with almost a thousand mammals, birds, reptiles and fishes featured in a number of pavilions.  As well as the usual zoo inmates like lions, tigers, monkeys and polar bears, the Zoo also featured captured bison and snow leopards.  And Charles drew them all.

“I have no idea how many animal pictures I have made — thousands of them, probably, and of almost every family of animals.”

He began to sell artwork to local magazines.  And then…

Kindred-of-the-wild-charles-livingston-bullMaybe it was the excitement of the new century.  But, on hearing that Charles G D Roberts was staying in New York, the normally shy artist put together a portfolio of his best work and set out to meet the popular Canadian wildlife writer, introducing himself at the door by saying that he wanted to be Robert’s illustrator.

Roberts was impressed by the 27-year old’s artwork, and took him personally to meet his American editors, telling them that Bull was the perfect man to illustrate his new book in production, THE KINDRED OF THE WILD: A Book of Animal Life.

KINDRED OF THE WILD quickly became an acclaimed best seller, showcasing a writer at the height of his power — and a young artist of great skill.

And Bull’s work was soon appearing in publications such as Outing Magazine, Boy’s Life, The Country Gentleman, Collier’s, Country Life in America, The Saturday Evening Post and Sunday Magazine.

When he began to get commissions to illustrate the books of other best selling authors like  Rudyard Kipling, Jack London (first editions of THE CALL OF THE WILD and WHITE FANG) and Frank Baum, his career blossomed.

Charles Bull began to travel further afield in search of wildlife studies.

Having a keen interest in birds, from helping with early bird-banding plans to supporting projects to save the endangered Bald Eagle, he studied every bird with a noticeable enthusiasm.

He was able to take annual trips to Canada, where he saw animals in the wild, capturing their drama and the wilderness where they lived.   When on these trips, he would stay still for hours with his binoculars, watching a bird on its solitary perch, or a mammal quietly going about its routines of seeking food or water.

 

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With his sketches, he would return to his studio…

“Sometimes when I take a story to illustrate, I make an outline of an animal, then go to a zoo and sit by the cage of that lion, tiger or whatever it is. I watch him closely as he walks, leaps, crouches, and from his positions I correct my outline and then carry it home to be filled in. My working hours are probably the craziest in the world for I begin at four in the afternoon and work until two the next morning.”

And, in a time of richly illustrated magazines and books, he gained a popular following among readers, writers and fellow artists.  His wildlife art evolved into something uniquely vital and dramatic. [6]

As art historian Priscilla Anne Lowry has written, Bull was inspired 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.” [7]

 

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In 1910, Charles Bull and his wife Fanny Elizabeth moved to Oradell, New Jersey, where he established a home with a new art studio on two acres of field and trees, filled with animals, both domestic and wild.  His menagerie included ducks, geese, turkeys, peacocks, sheep, and assorted species of fish.

For a while, he even had a herd of deer there. c-bull-deer2

And did some of his best work as America’s most beloved wildlife artist.   Not one for many interviews, and avoiding public events, he gained the rep of being a “reclusive artist.”  While not as shy or retiring as fellow wildlife artist German-born J C Leyendecker, Charles did prefer the private life of a quiet, peaceful country gentleman.

A neighbour referred to him as “a quiet, totally abstracted, very pleasant man who never said anything and who lived for his work and his animals.”

Later published artwork included magazine illustrations for popular authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs (TARZAN THE UNTAMED, Red Book Magazine, March to August, 1919) as well as dramatic covers and illustrations for hardcover books such as OLD CROW AND HIS FRIENDS by Katharine B Judson, FLASH THE LEAD DOG and THE HEART OF THE KING-DOG both by George Marsh, SILVERSHEENE, KING OF LEAD DOGS by Clarence Hawks, ROWDY AN ALASKAN DOG STORY by Robert Joseph Driven, WOOD-FOLK COMEDIES by William J Long and LORDS OF THE WILD by Samuel Scoville.

He’s still remembered and revered — especially by those of us who first saw his wildlife artwork in their original format: treasured old outdoor magazines and faded hardcover books. [8]

As his friend and fellow naturalist Beecher S Bowdish wrote, Charles Livingston Bull “much preferred watching the wild creatures alive than dead, so he didn’t often use a gun.  He was always looking for the beauty of the beautiful and I have heard many say that it was this trait that made him so delightful a companion in the field.  He was gentleness and kindness itself and the most unselfish of men…”

He is still remembered.

 

To see more of Charles Livingston Bull’s artwork, go to “The Bear That Thought He Was A Dog” A Complete Short Story by Sir Charles G D Roberts

==>> To see more about my favourite Writers and Artists of the Wilderness and the Northlands, go to THE LIFE AND WORKS OF BRIAN ALAN BURHOE  Right Here, Mon Ami!

 

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NOTE: All of Charles Bull’s artwork on this page illustrates writings of Sir Charles G D Roberts.

[1] Or maybe because all Animal Stories are filed away on the Children’s Literature shelves — whether Beatrice Potter or Jack London.

[2] As I later came to love the cover art and illustrations of artists like Emsh (Ed Emshwiller), Jack Gaughan, Roy G Krenkel and Frank Frazetta.

[3] www.askart.com/AskART/artists/biography.aspx?searchtype=BIO&artist=3282

[4] Leroy Vincent, Boy’s Life, Dec 1928, page 38

[5] BRIEF BIOGRAPHIES OF SOME WELL-KNOWN AUTHORS AND ILLUSTRATORS, by Samuel G Goodrich, page 19.  Published by Penn Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1929.

[6] To me, as a boy, only Canadian Hal Foster matched Bull in inspired artwork.  I remember a scene in a Prince Valiant Weekend comic strip (in a neighbour’s scrapbook collection of pages older than I was) when Val was travelling on a Viking longboat down a forest-edged river in what would someday be Canada.  So real were Foster’s drawings that I swore I could smell the firwood forest and hear the creak of the longboat’s rigging and timbers.  I was there.

mama-bear-baby-bears-charles-livingston-bull[7] “CL Bull’s monochromatic style of rendering the animal in the natural setting with charcoal and ink on paper — the perfect medium for 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.” – Priscilla Anne Lowry, http://www.lowryjames.com

[8] In 2010, the National Museum of Wildlife Art created the Bull-Bransom Award in honour of Charles Livingston Bull and Paul Bransom, “who were among the first and finest American artist-illustrators to specialize in wildlife subjects. The Bull-Bransom Award is given annually to recognize excellence in the field of children’s book illustration with a focus on nature and wildlife.”  A distinguished award, of course, but continues the modern tendency of pigeonholing most Animal writing and art on the Children’s Shelf.

 

Charles Livingston Bull, Wildlife Artist

 

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About Brian Alan Burhoe

A Graduate of the Holland College Culinary Course, Brian Alan Burhoe has cooked in Atlantic Coast restaurants and institutional kitchens for over 30 years. He is a member of the Canadian Culinary Federation. Brian's articles reflect his interests in food service, Canadian history, imaginative literature, wildlife writing, animal rights, wilderness preservation and our best friends -- our dogs. See his CIVILIZED BEARS!
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