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 Ernest Evan Thompson Seton  (1860 - 1946)

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Lived/Active: New York/New Mexico / Canada/England/Mexico      Known for: wild animal and bird illustration, painting

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Ad Code: 3
Ernest Thompson Seton
from Auction House Records.
Bison in a Western Landscap
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in South Shields, England Ernest Seton became a noted illustrator of naturalist subjects, especially wildlife.  Of him, it was written: "He was the most important wildlife artist of his generation and the most artistically significant since Audubon. . . . " In 1894, wildlife illustrator Ernest Thompson Seton invented the realistic animal story: a portrayal of wildlife based on scientific natural history of the animal as it really lived and behaved in the wild.  Before this time, animal characters were just humans in animal guise, or served as allegorical figures, or simply behaved in impossible ways." (Witt, p. 78-79)  Also he is credited for the 'far-sight' method of bird identification, later used in field guides for viewers with binoculars.

Seton moved to Toronto, Canada in 1866 when he was a youngster, and lived there with his family in the wilderness for four years.  Sickly, he took solace in nature. He asserted his independence by making his last name, Thompson, his middle one and adding the name of Seton.  He apprenticed to a portrait painter, studied at the Toronto Collegiate Institute, and then spent three years on a scholarship in England studying at the Royal Academy.  There he frequently toured the British Museum, focusing on the natural history section, and from that time, began combining art and nature.

He returned to Canada where he homesteaded in Manitoba and spent the years of 1882 to 1886, traveling on the American plains.  Then he went to New York City as a free-lance writer and illustrator, and wrote and illustrated books including Mammals of Manitoba (1886), Wild Animals I Have Known (1898), The Birchbark Roll (1906), Indian Lore (1912), Woodcraft Indians (1915) and Gospel of the Red Man (1936).  Another work, Lives of Game Animals, has become a classic of natural history.

In 1890, Seton returned to Paris and became a student of William Bouguereau and Jean Leon Gerome.  After that, he lived in Ontario and was an illustrator of the Century Dictionary  and compiled a major work, now a classic, of natural history, Lives of Game Animals.  He also had a leading role in the Boy Scout movement, serving for four years, until 1915, as its Chief Scout.  He gave over 3000 lectures on Indian life and crafting wood, having founded in 1902 a youth education program known as Woodcraft Indians, the precursor of the Woodcraft League.

In the summer of 1897, Seton and his wife traveled to Yellowstone Park because Seton had accepted an assignment to write a series of articles on wildlife of the west.  Unlike his famous wildlife painter peer, Carl Runguis, who killed animals before he painted them, Seton believed in wildlife preservation and in modeling from the living animal.  He also traveled to British Columbia and Mexico, but later said that for him, there was no place that equaled Yellowstone Park because of the special relationship between animals and human beings.  Doing many articles for Recreation magazine, he told of his experiences in the western United States, especially Yellowstone.

In 1930, Seton and his wife moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where he was the founder of the College of Indian Wisdom on 2500 acres of land.  The purpose was to conserve Indian heritage and crafts.

Peggy and Harold Samuels, Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
Peter Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone
Daniel Witt, "Wild at Heart: Ernest Thompson Seton", American Art Review, February, 2011

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Ernest Seton is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Taos Pre 1940

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