W. Herbert Dunton

1878-1936 Taos, NM

Mexican Vaqueros roping Brown Bears

Oil on canvas laid to board
Signed and inscribed lower right: W. Herbert Dunton, Hacienda San Jose de Babicora, Mexico
34" H x 50.5" W

  • Literature: Charles Scribner's Sons New York, "Scribner's Magazine", Volume L1 January-June, 1912, p. 179, fig. 173A, illustrated.
  • Notes: Taos founder William Herbert "Buck" Dunton's early masterwork featuring Mexican vaquero brothers on horseback in the midst of roping two Mexican grizzly bears (now an extinct species), showcases the artist's lifelong parallel interests in animals and hunting, and his skill and talent at capturing Western action in painting.

    Foremost Dunton scholar Michael R. Grauer writes in a March 2019 letter about the artist's early interest in the painting's subject, "Dunton began hunting and fishing with his grandfather while still a youngster in the Maine woods, often carrying a sketchpad along with his rod or rifle. He practiced amateur taxidermy and skinned animals whose pelts he hung on the wall of his "den". He wrote and illustrated hunting articles for The Amateur Sportsman, American Rifleman, and National Sportsman magazines, and three unpublished stories on hunting and wildlife…During his first trip west in 1896, he hunted for nearly two yeas supplying meat for ranches" (Grauer, p. 1). That 1896 trip to Montana occurred when Dunton was just 18 years old, and Dunton continued to make a number of trips West between 1896 and 1911, including a first visit to northern Mexico in 1909 and the Chihuahua, Mexico trip in 1910 to Phoebe Apperson Hearst's Babicora Ranch during which the present work was executed.

    According to Grauer, the execution and style of the vaquero painting shows clear influences of important Western artists Frederic Remington and Charles Marion Russell. Grauer notes, "Remington depicted Mexican vaqueros as early as 1890. Russell painted a number of scenes of cowboys roping grizzly bears. Moreover, Russell and his close friend painter Philip R. Goodwin often created 'predicament paintings' in which the outcome remains uncertain for the scene depicted. Their mutual friend Dunton also shared their delight in 'predicament paintings'" as seen in the present work (Grauer, p. 1).

    Dunton explored the subject of vaqueros a number of times in addition to the present painting, even before actually visiting Mexico, and his vaquero subjects appeared on the covers of The Cavalier magazine in March 1909, The Popular Magazine in March 1911, and Collier's Magazine in May 1911 (Grauer, 2). In a 1916 New York Herald article by Gustav Kobbe titled "Down by the Rio Grande - Types of Vaqueros, Peons, Indians, and Sheep Herders as Seen and Painted by American Artists in Mexico," Dunton is quoted describing vaqueros as "marvelously proficient as ropers and riders" (as quoted in J. Schimmel, The Art and Life of W. Herbert Dunton, 1878-1936, University of Texas Press, 1984, p. 23). The present painting was illustrated in color in the February 1912 issue of Scribner's Magazine in F. Warner Robinson's article The New Cattle Country, p. 181, and was captioned, "Fernando roped one of the bears and his brother caught another" (Schimmel, p. 195).

    Set in high desert country in the Northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, the hazy and muted, painterly background focuses the viewer's attention fully on the central action. Two vaquero brothers demonstrate their significant roping skill as each work to lasso two grizzly bears. The background rider's arm is raised in mid-swing about to rope one grizzly, while the central foreground rider has just successfully heeled his grizzly.

    The figures' dress and the horse tack and blanket are historically accurate. "[The foreground figure's] saddle shows typical Northern Mexico tapaderos and the same vaquero sports Chihuahua spurs, with their distinctive thick heel band and large, multi-toothed rowel. Both vaqueros wear fairly typical sombreros and the foremost vaquero wears Mexican-style shotgun chaperreras" (Grauer, p. 2). Additionally, the positions and gestures of the foreground figure and his mount emphasize the artist's keen awareness of how a mounted figure might actually heel a bear. "[T]he vaquero on the bay horse has dallied his reata around his saddle horn, thus allowing him to 'play' the rope and now allow him and his horse to be pulled down by the grizzly" (Grauer, p. 2). The forward leaning figure and his rearing horse work in tandem to pull the bear off balance onto his back.

    This exceptionally rare museum-quality painting, with its ambitious size and forceful subject, has remained in the family of Texas General Homer I. Lewis for many years. It was, by repute, likely purchased directly from the estate of Phoebe Apperson Hearst.
  • Condition: Visual: The canvas is laid to board as stated. The board is bowed out from the center. Craquelure scattered throughout. Minor surface dirt and grime. The canvas is bubbling from the board upper right, upper left, left center and lower left. Small spots of loss to the impasto lower left. Several flat spots to the impasto scattered throughout the lower portion of the painting. A small puncture to the canvas with paint loss lower center. A 12.75" scattered scratch right center. A small speck of paint loss in the center. A scattered 1.5" line of paint loss due to rubbing upper center. Frame abrasion along the four edges. The tacking edges were removed.
    Blacklight: A 3" x 2.75" area of touch-up in the left bear's head and neck, with scattered touch-up throughout it's body.
    Frame: 39.25" H x 56.25" W x 2" D

Accepted Forms of Payment:

American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Money Order / Cashiers Check, Personal Check, Visa, Wire Transfer


Buyers are responsible for arranging their own shipping estimates and deliveries. Moran's in our discretion and as a courtesy to buyers, can arrange to have purchased lots packed, insured and forwarded by a third-party shipper at the request, expense and risk of the buyer. Moran's assumes no responsibility for acts or omissions in such packing or shipping by other packers or carriers, even if recommended by Moran's. Nor does Moran's assume any responsibility for any damage to picture frames or to the glass therein. In circumstances where Moran's arranges for such third-party services, Moran's may apply an administration charge of 15% of that service fee.

May 17, 2020 2:00 PM PDT
Monrovia, CA, US

John Moran Auctioneers

You agree to pay a buyer's premium of up to 25% and any applicable taxes and shipping.

View full terms and conditions

Bid Increments
From: To: Increments:
$0 $499 $25
$500 $999 $50
$1,000 $1,999 $100
$2,000 $4,999 $250
$5,000 $9,999 $500
$10,000 $19,999 $1,000
$20,000 $49,999 $2,500
$50,000 $99,999 $5,000
$100,000 $199,999 $10,000
$200,000 $499,999 $25,000
$500,000 + $50,000