Carl Rungius was born in Germany in 1896 into a large family with seven sisters and one brother. His family had interests in art, nature, and taxidermy and he loved to hunt early on his life. As a teenager, he had a chance to see an exhibition of work by wildlife artist, Richard Friese and from then on Carl Rungius knew he wanted to be an artist. He studied at the Berlin Art Academy between 1888 and 1890 and frequently sketched animals at the Berlin Zoo. He also studied an animal’s anatomy by visiting glue factories.
An uncle invited Carl Rungius to hunt moose in Maine in 1894. The following year, he traveled to Wyoming to hunt and sketch. So captivated with the scenery and big game, Rungius decided to move to the United States in 1896. Rungius spent summers in Wyoming and winters in his New York studio for the next ten years. While in Wyoming, he would study and sketch the animals and landscape for his compositions that he would paint during the winter in New York. He also worked as an illustrator for hunting and naturalist magazines or books.
During this time, Theodore Roosevelt was promoting conservation and established many National Parks and the United States Forest Service. These efforts helped Rungius’ reputation grow as a premier wildlife artist. By 1909, he was able to give up his illustrative work and focus full time on painting. In 1910 he was offered the opportunity to visit the Canadian Rockies and hunt. The experience made a strong impression on him. In 1921, he built a studio in Banff, that he called “The Paintbox”. He would work there from April to October each year.
Carl Rungius is known for his ability to capture wildlife in their nature environment. This ability sets him apart from other artists working at the time who used wild animals as their subjects. Both animal and landscape are equally important in his work. They are romanticized and void of any human presence.
The National Museum of Wildlife Art holds the largest public collection of Rungius’ work in the United States. Upon his death in 1959, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary bought the entire Rungius estate including paintings, sketches, photographs and personal belongings of his studios in Banff and New York.