Pencil, signed and dated 'W. Kuhnert/ 2.3.93' (lower left) and inscribed 'Tapirus R*****/ ****** Gurteltier/ Dasypus Villosus/ Orycteropus aethiopicus/ Hyrax dorsalis' (clockwise from top left), 9 x 12 1/2 in. (22.8 x 31.8 cm.)
Wilhelm Kuhnert was born in Germany on September 28, 1865. At the age of seventeen, he travelled to Berlin to stay with relatives and enroll at the Royal Academy of Berlin. While at the Academy, he studied Animal Painting under the renowned German animal painter Paul Meyerheim and landscape painting under Ferdinand Bellerman. Although considerable attention was paid to studying anatomy, the students would sketch captive animals in a zoo and then make formal paintings in their studio-making up the environments from the artists imagination. Kuhnert decided to change this. After seeing some African animals at a fair, the young artist vowed to travel to Africa and paint animals in the native habitat.
Upon leaving the Royal Academy, he acquired a studio in Berlin. While Kuhnert was sketching at the Berlin Zoo, he was introduced to Hans Meyer, the first European to climb Kilimanjaro. Meyer was impressed with Kuhnerts ability and promised the young artist the chance to illustrate his next book. Kuhnert told Meyer of his goal of traveling to Africa to paint the animals in their natural settings. Meyer suggested he travel to East Africa and even gave Kuhnert his safari equipment.
Good to his word Meyer commissioned Kuhnert to illustrate Brehems Tierbuilder, a dictionary of animals around the world. With the proceeds from the book, Kuhnert traveled to Africa in 1891.
At that time, the East African Colony was a vast, unexplored territory for most Germans. Kuhnert traveled the only way available-accompanied by a score of men to act as guides and carry the hundreds of pounds of gear and supplies needed for such a journey. A year later, he returned to Germany with dozens of paintings, sketches and drawings of the African animals, people and places.
In 1893, Kuhnert paintings went on display at the Berliner Art Exhibition and he took the Medal of Honor. The public responded to his truthful depictions of the great continent. At only 28 years of age Kuhnerts success seemed assured.
He married in 1894 and moved to a larger studio. The attraction of Africa could not keep him home, so in 1905, h left his wife and daughter and returned to what he called The Promised Land. After a year on the continent, rather than return home, he traveled to Ceylon. Unable to stand his long absences, his wife left him in 1907. Kuhnert finally returned to Germany in 1908.
He returned to Africa twice more in 1905 and 1911. In 1920, Kuhnert published two books on African wildlife-Im Lande Meiner Modelle (in the Land of My Model) and Mein Tierre (My Animals). He died February 11, 1926 at the age of 60-five months after his second wife had passed away.
Wilhelm Kuhnert is considered to be amongst the greatest of all animal artists and his work is represented in many major museums and institutions around the world.