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 Clarence Ingwall Tillenius  (1913 - )

About: Clarence Ingwall Tillenius


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Lived/Active: Canada      Known for: wildlife, diorama

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Clarence Ingwall Tillenius
An example of work by Clarence Ingwall Tillenius
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
First becoming interested in dioramas in the 1930s, Clarence Tillenius is considered a wildlife painter and creator of dioramas. His first exposure to wildlife art was at the American Museum in New York. He worked for the Natural Museum in Ottawa, Canada, and worked specifically on Mammal Hall there. He is a founding member of the Society of Animal Artists in New York, as well as the Society of Wildlife Art of the Nations in England.

"Why I Paint Wilderness," by Clarence Tillenius, "I strive through my paintings to communicate to others what has moved me deeply in nature. I believe that there is in the universe an underlying rhythm, a stream of life common to all ages; that the work of an artist who could tap into that rhythm would be timeless, it would be understood in any age, since man himself is bound by, and responds to, the same rhythm as the animals. Art that is to endure must always derive its strength from nature; that is, the artist must have a profound understanding of, and a feeling for, the elemental sources of things, the rhythms of life that are not affected by passing fashions. In my paintings of animals and wilderness, I strive to convey what I feel about these things, to portray a wilderness world intelligible to any human being who is exhilarated by a mountain sunrise, who sees with pleasure a rabbit track across a snowy field, or who simply enjoys being outdoors. It is wrong to think that the viewer of a painting must be a connoisseur of art, or even must know how the painting was done. It is the business of the artist to perfect a technique that will communicate what he feels about what he chooses to paint.

The Manitoba Interlake country, when I was born in 1913, was then newly settled wilderness. But while I was growing up, the moose, elk, wolves, and bears were being destroyed, wiped out by the settler's ready rifle, leaving only nostalgic memories of the days when their numbers were such that no one thought they could ever disappear. So while I was young, I learned that much of the fascinating world of wildlife would always be doomed to disappear with the coming of settlement by man. I guessed that it must be so, and was determined to paint pictures that would convey what I felt about the wonderful world, which I believed was slipping away.

It was with brush, pencil and pen that I was most strongly moved to try to render my fascination with wild creatures, but I also felt an urgent need to make people aware of the threats to their natural heritage. To this end, I used whatever time I could take from painting and drawing to write and lecture - always on my favorite themes: the singular beauty of animals as seen in the wild and the need to preserve their habitat.

In 1954, I began a series of large paintings of Canada's wildlife and wilderness landscapes. Many of these paintings are now grouped together in a collection in Winnipeg. Hundreds of thousands of reproductions of these paintings and their accompanying texts have been distributed across Canada and around the world. It was my hope that people who saw them would be moved to preserve some of that matchless wilderness we are now so blessed with but which will disappear unless people who care unite to safeguard it.

Discerning people have long sensed instinctively the human need for a continual renewing of mankind's bond with nature and with the earth. To me, painting wilderness is a way of saying that nature must be understood and protected by people if man is to survive in a civilized world.

Dioramas, for those not familiar with their construction, are large hollow shells (like a hollow ball cut in quarters) on which are painted realistic landscape backgrounds. In front of these curved backgrounds are placed the mounted animals in their home terrain of bushes, trees, rocks, prairies, ice-floes, or other landscape materials: the whole effect causing the spectator to imagine that he or she is looking at animals in their natural setting. One test of the artist's skill is that the spectator should not be able to divine where the real foreground merges with the painted background. My own experiences, augmented by the years of exchanging ideas with the many master diorama artists who became my friends, gradually enabled me to meet and solve the many and often unforeseen challenges of doing these complicated museum dioramas. The creating of these dioramas, and the wilderness expeditions they made necessary, have been a great source of pleasure over the years.

Of the eighteen dioramas I have created over my lifetime, probably the most demanding (if one excepts Manitoba's big Boreal Forest Moose diorama) was the large Red River Buffalo Hunt diorama, which at the request of the directors of the Manitoba Museum of Man and nature, I completed in time for the Museum's opening on July 15, 1970 by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

For this Buffalo Hunt diorama with which I was preoccupied for over five years from first conception to eventual completion, I made trips to most of the major buffalo ranges (where sometimes the buffalo wardens staged stampedes of several hundred buffalo so that I could experience standing in the path of a stampeding buffalo herd.) I made numerous sketches, took movies and photographs, collected sod, prairie grasses and shrubs, made casts of rocks from the untouched prairie buffalo range: and finally, aided by master taxidermist Walter Pelzer and hard-working artist Jim Carson and with the cooperation of the museum staff, the exhibit was completed as the major show piece for the museum's opening.

My involvement with dioramas, however, began much earlier. During the 1930's and 40's I had traveled to the United States visiting major natural history museums, studying such diorama collections as the great African and North American Halls in the American Museum of Natural History in New York and along the way becoming acquainted with some of the famed diorama artists: Francis Lee Jacques, Carl Rungius, James Perry Wilson, William Treher, Belmore Browne and a host of others.

So when at a convention of the Learned Societies in Winnipeg (about 1958 or '59) I was asked by Frank Banfield of the National Museum in Ottawa, if I would be interested in undertaking several dioramas - moose, Dall sheep, pronghorn antelope, and Barrenground caribou, I accepted without hesitation. I must confess, though, in retrospect, that I did have a few misgivings about how I, having lost my right arm, would manage the climbing up and down and painting from the platforms of the teetering twelve foot scaffolding required for doing the skies in these sixteen to twenty foot high diorama shells.

However, as with most projects tackled with vigor and enthusiasm, ways were found to cope with all of these obstacles, and gradually, the list of museums displaying my dioramas grew: The National Museum of Natural Sciences now the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, where Mammal Hall had eight - the Moose, Dall Sheep, Barrenground Caribou, Grizzly, Polar Bear, Pronghorn Antelope, Cougar and Wood Bison groups; the British Columbia Provincial Museum in Victoria where I produced the Moose, California Bighorn and Coastal Forest Roosevelt Elk dioramas; the Alberta Provincial Museum in Edmonton had my Rocky Mountain Goat diorama; and the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature in Winnipeg which houses five of my dioramas; the Barrenground Caribou, the Red River Buffalo Hunt, the Pronghorn Antelope, the Polar Bear and the Boreal Forest Moose diorama; the Baker Cultural and Heritage Centre in Baker Lake, North West Territories, has my most recent diorama - Inuit Hunting Caribou on the Lower Kazan River which I completed in the spring of 1998."

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