Remington and Russell

[ Art ]

Remington and Russell

The Sid Richardson Collection / Revised Edition

By Brian W. Dippie

Since its original publication in 1982, Remington and Russell has become an essential introduction to the work of these artists, and this revision substantially enhances the book's strengths.

1994

Since its original publication in 1982, Remington and Russell has become an essential introduction to the work of these artists, and this revision substantially enhances the book's strengths. Every painting in the Sid Richardson Collection has been rephotographed for this edition, including one Russell and five Remington paintings not included previously. Numerous black-and-white illustrations have also been added to give insight into the evolution of the paintings.

Brian Dippie has considerably amplified his commentaries on each painting with new information. His revised introduction places Remington and Russell in the historical and cultural contexts of their time and draws intriguing comparisons between the two artists.

  • Introduction
  • Acknowledgments
  • Frederic S. Remington
    • The Way Post
    • The Riderless Horse
    • The Ambushed Picket
    • The Sentinel
    • Self-Portrait on a Horse
    • His Last Stand
    • The Courrier du Bois and the Savage
    • The Thunder-Fighters Would Take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum
    • In a Stiff Current
    • The Puncher Captured
    • He Rushed the Pony Right to the Barricade
    • Rounded-Up
    • The Cow Puncher
    • A Sioux Chief
    • A Taint on the Wind
    • The Dry Camp
    • A Figure of the Night
    • Scare in a Pack Train
    • The Unknown Explorers
    • Apache Medicine Song
    • Among the Led Horses
    • Buffalo Runners—Big Horn Basin
    • The Luckless Hunter
  • Charles M. Russel
    • Roping the Renegade
    • Western Scene
    • Cowpunching Sometimes Spells Trouble
    • Cowboy Sport—Roping a Wolf
    • Grubpile
    • Seeking New Hunting Grounds
    • The Brave's Return
    • The Buffalo Runners
    • Caught in the Circle
    • There May Be Danger Ahead
    • Plunder on the Horizon
    • Trouble on the Horizon
    • Indians Hunting Buffalo
    • Attack on the Mule Train
    • The Marriage Ceremony
    • Bringing Up the Trail
    • The Defiant Culprit
    • Big Nose George
    • and the Road Agents
    • The Ambush
    • Sighting the Herd
    • The Snow Trail
    • Three Generations
    • Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Meet with the Indians of the Northwest
    • Guardian of the Herd
    • The Buffalo Hunt
    • Wild Man's Meat
    • When Cowboys Get in Trouble
    • Bear Claw
    • Breaking Up the Ring
    • The Tenderfoot
    • On the Attack
    • Buffalo Hunt
    • Returning to Camp
    • Counting Coup
    • Trouble Hunters
    • Indian Head
    • The Bucker
    • He Snaked Old Texas Pete Right Out of His Wicky-up, Gun and All
    • Utica
    • The Scout
    • First Wagon Trail
    • When Blackfeet and Sioux Meet
    • Wounded
    • Maney Snows Have Fallen
    • He Tripped and Fell into a Den on a Mother Bear and Her Cubs
    • His Wealth
    • A Bad One
    • Man's Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed
    • Deer in Forest
    • Buffalo Bill's Duel with Yellowhand
    • When White Men Turn Red
    • Roping
  • Other Western Painters
    • Indian Encampment by Peter Moran
    • The Pow-Wow by William Gilbert Gaul
    • Nai-U-Chi: Chief of the Bow, Zuni 1895 by Charles Francis Browne
    • Indians by Edwin Willard Deming
    • Attack on the Herd by Charles Schreyvogel
    • The Hold Up by William Robinson Leigh
    • Bears in the Path by William Robinson Leigh
    • Trouble on the Pony Express by Frank Tenney Johnson
    • Contrabandista a la Frontera by Frank Tenney Johnson
    • The Forty-niners by Oscar E. Berninghaus
    • Ten Indian Studies by Herbert M. Herget
    • Portrait of Sid Richardson by Peter Hurd
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index

Browse the book with Google Preview »

Sid Williams Richardson, oilman, cattleman, and financier, sought respite from the pressures of his many business activities in a peculiarly western form of recreation: he collected western art. That he collected wisely and well is evident to the thousands of visitors who since November 1982 have enjoyed the Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell paintings on permanent display in downtown Fort Worth, the city Richardson made the base for his wideranging operations.

Born in Athens, Texas, on April 25, 1891, Sid Richardson was trading cattle and making money before he graduated from high school. He had a knack for making deals and, according to an acquaintance, relished the chase. After attending college at Waco and Abilene, he entered the oil business in 1912, scouting for new fields, drilling wells, swapping leases, and still making—and losing—money. His personal fortune followed that of the boom-and-bust petroleum industry in Texas through the turbulent 1920s; in 1930, along with the nation's economy, he crashed. But with luck, perseverance and willing friends, Richardson started over, wildcatting in West Texas until he struck it big in the Keystone Field and never looked back again. Richardson subsequently diversified his operations, but always oil, cattle, and land were the bedrock.

With his fortune secure, Richardson in 1942 decided to collect Western art, startling Bertram M. Newhouse, president of the Newhouse Galleries in New York City, with a question and an offer: Could the Newhouse Galleries form a collection of western pictures for him? If so, get them and he would pay the price. Bert Newhouse cherished the memory of the trust that Richardson, "the finest natural gentleman I ever knew," reposed in him. Richardson operated on loyalty, and Newhouse Galleries remained his principal dealer from 1942 to 1950, when he acquired the majority of his paintings. For him, it was another kind of oil game. He liked the pictures he understood, his nephew recalls, and had "a quick eye." Clyde Newhouse, who was sent by his father into the field to scout out what was available, remembered Richardson's excitement when he "took up the chase." Collecting Western art was a gamble when it was not the established activity it is today, and this added zest to the pursuit. As oilmen like Richardson, Frank Phillips, Thomas Gilcrease, R. W. Norton, and Amon Carter won the twentieth-century West, Clyde Newhouse hypothesized, the paintings showing the earlier winning of the West became important to them. Themselves part of the western legend of freewheeling enterprise, through their collections they established a link to the romantic legends of an older West.

Certainly Sid Richardson enjoyed his Western paintings. "I get a kick out of seein' 'em around me," he quipped, and he meant it literally. In his rooms at the Fort Worth Club and his home on San José Island, off Rockport, Texas, he was surrounded by the works of Remington and Russell, often displaying them with a touch of sly humor. Remington's 1889 Sentinel was hung at the end of one hall to create a trompe l'oeil effect, as though one were gazing out a window onto Old Mexico. Russell's painting of skunks ransacking a hunters' camp, Man's Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed, graced the dining room on the island because it "bugged" Richardson's older sister. Visitors to his Fort Worth office confronted Richardson at his desk and on the wall behind him Russell's aptly titled The Tenderfoot. "Anybody can paint a horse on four legs, but it takes a real eye to paint them in violent motion," he once told his nephew. "All parts of the horse must be in proper position, and Remington and Russell are the fellows who can do it." His affinity for their work is easily explained. Richardson had trailed cattle in his youth, camping out under the stars with his saddle for a pillow. A plain-spoken, unpretentious man, he was "more at home with cowboys in a country cafe than ... in a fine restaurant in New York," John Connally observed, and, as a lifelong bachelor, he was certainly as fiddlefooted as any cowboy around. Most summers found him in La Jolla at the race track. A lover of fine horses, he raised registered quarter horses on one of his ranches. His personal favorite was Dude, a big paint that came at the call of his name and would go through his paces on command. Richardson was also an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed hunting (he was a good shot) and fishing. Little wonder, then, that he responded to Remington and Russell's depictions of "men with the bark on." Russell was his particular favorite. He shared his earthy sense of humor, and thus treasured pictures like The Tenderfoot, Utica, and Man's Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed.

Sid Richardson did not confine his collecting to Remington and Russell. He showed no interest in Western landscapists (Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran) or the pre-Civil War documentarians (George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, Alfred Jacob Miller, Paul Kane, and Charles Wimar, for example), but he did acquire works by such relatively unknown late nineteenth-century artists as Gilbert Gaul, Peter Moran, and Charles F. Browne. Though he liked Russell's paintings of Indian domestic life and kept The Marriage Ceremony over his bed, the tranquil Indian scenes characteristic of the southwestern school centered in Taos and Santa Fe did not attract him—perhaps for the same reasons Remington expressed when he wrote his wife from Santa Fe in 1900: "I dont want to do pueblos—too tame ... They dont appeal to me—too decorative—and too easily in reach of every tenderfoot." Richardson did acquire paintings with action or suspense by Charles Schreyvogel, Oscar E. Berninghaus, Frank Tenney Johnson, William R. Leigh and Edwin W. Deming. But mostly he stuck to Remington and Russell, adding the occasional work until a few years before his death on September 30, 1959. Time has confirmed his wisdom. Remington and Russell remain today what they were in their own day, the "titans of Western art."

***

Frederic Sackrider Remington was born in the town of Canton in northern New York on October 4, 1861. His boyhood fostered a lifelong love of horses and the out-of-doors, while his father's tales of action as a cavalry officer in the Civil War filled his head with pictures and inspired a passion for things military that found a western focus with the annihilation of General George Armstrong Custer's command on the Little Bighorn River during the nation's Centennial Year, 1876. At the age of fourteen Remington was smitten with the urge to go west and see for himself the blue-clad cavalrymen, bronzeskinned Indians, and buckskin-garbed frontier scouts who peopled his fantasies and filled his school texts and sketchbooks.

But Remington's was a family of some prominence. His father owned the Canton newspaper and, a staunch Republican, had secured a patronage plum, U.S. collector of the port of Ogdensburg, New York, on the St. Lawrence River. Naturally Frederic was expected to attend college and prepare himself for a business career. Instead, he passed a year and a half at Yale playing football and studying art. He never relinquished his youthful ambition to see the West, and when he came into a small advance on his inheritance after his father's death, was off to Montana in August 1881 for a few months' stay. Although he tried to settle into a clerkship in Albany on his return to New York, he remained restless and eager to see more of the West. His opportunity came in February 1883. With the balance of his inheritance in hand, he was off again, this time to Kansas, where he purchased a sheep ranch and, for the only time in his life, made the West his home. He did not stay long—about a year—and was never keen thereafter to reveal that he had been a sheepman, not a cattleman. Thus a journalist in 1907 described him as a "stockman on a ranch" and spoke in glowing generalities about his experiences, lumping his Kansas sojourn with the many reportorial excursions he made to the West through the 1890s to fabricate a portrait of Remington, the complete Westerner:

... this blond, youngish giant who sat idly smoking a cigarette and looking as if he had led a sheltered existence between walls and amid refined surroundings all his life was once a ranger on the limitless prairies, a hard-riding, rough-living, freefighting cow-puncher,—for do not lose sight of the fact that Frederic Remington has put himself and his own experiences in very nearly every picture he has drawn or painted. "He rides like a Comanche,"said one of his friends speaking of Remington's early career. "He knows as much about horses and cattle as any man alive. And so he should, for he spent most of his youth in the saddle, rounding up mavericks, chasing and being chased by red men and hobnobbing with scouts, pioneers, miners and the picturesque freebooters of the plains."

Nonsense like this created the false impression that Remington's art always drew directly upon personal experience. In fact, his major easel paintings were tributes to the Wild West of fantasy. They drew on the artist's experiences for their sense of place and authentic details, but on his imagination for their subject matter. Remington's achievement was to fuse observation and imagination so seamlessly that his contemporaries assumed he had actually witnessed what he showed, and a journalist writing in 1892, at a time when Remington's reputation as the supreme illustrator of Western life was recent but already secure, was acute in remarking: "In his pictures of life on the plains, and of Indian fighting, he has almost created a new field in illustration, so fresh and novel are his characterizations ... It is a fact that admits of no question that Eastern people have formed their conceptions of what the FarWestern life is like, more from what they have seen in Mr. Remington's pictures than from any other source, and if they went to the West or to Mexico they would expectto see men and places looking exactly as Mr. Remington has drawn them."

Remington illustrated for the major periodicals of the day—Century Magazine, Harper's Weekly, Harper's New Monthly Magazine—and lesser journals as well. By the end of the century, as reproductive processes and photographic technology reached new sophistication, the illustrator's role as purveyor of information became obsolete, marooning those who were satisfied in the role but freeing others like Remington who found it too restrictive. Since 1888 he had been exhibiting in major art shows, seeking recognition as not just an illustrator, but an artist in the recognized sense of the term. "The men who do things are the real people," he wrote. "The artists and novelists are the people who tell about them and the critics... are the coyotes who hang on the edge of the herd." Still, he courted the critics, while holding sales of his work and competing for prizes. In 1891 he was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design. But he never quite made the breakthrough he was seeking until he turned to sculpting in 1895 and discovered an unexpected talent. "I am to endure in bronze ... —I am modeling—I find I do well—I am doing a cow boy on a bucking broncho and I am going to rattle down through all the ages," he wrote with characteristic enthusiasm. He was right to be pleased. The Bronco Buster is one of the defining masterpieces of the Western art tradition. Remington toyed with abandoning painting altogether to glory in the joys of "mud." His color sense, long under the sway of illustration's black and white imperative, was suspect, he readily conceded, while form was his forte. Sculpting seemed the answer, clay the medium in which he could express himself most fully while earning critical respect, though some dismissed his bronzes as illustrations in three dimensions.

By 1900 the painter in Remington had also come out fighting. He would teach himself how to see all over again, letting his color sense develop naturally. A contract with Collier's Weekly in 1903 gave him the freedom to paint what he wanted, with Collier's reserving exclusive reproduction rights. In effect, he would receive a salary of $500 a month, subsequently bumped up to $1,000 a month, for twelve paintings a year. This arrangement removed monetary worries and allowed Remington to experiment with his painting. His technique evolved dramatically during the last five years of his life as he rejected the crisp, linear style that had served him so well for two decades as an illustrator to concentrate on mood, color, and light—sunlight, moonlight, and firelight. His later oils are consistent with his conclusion, flatly asserted, that his West was dead. "I mean just this: The West is no longer the West of picturesque and stirring events," he explained. "Romance and adventure have been beaten down in the rush of civilization; the country west of the Mississippi has become hopelessly commercialized, shackled in chains of business to its uttermost limits. The cowboy—the real thing, mark you ... disappeared with the advent of the wire fence, and as for the Indian, there are so few of him he doesn't count. . ." So Remington painted impressionistic scenes in which the West, now entirely confined to memory, was invested with a poetry and mystery the present could not touch. The critics saw things his way at last. In 1909 his annual exhibition at New York's M. Knodler & Company opened to strong reviews, and Remington crowed in his diary: "The art critics have all 'come down'—I have received splendid notices from all the papers. They ungrudgingly give me a high place as a 'mere painter.' I have been on their trail a long while and they never surrendered while they had a leg to stand on. The 'Illustrator' phase has become background."

Within a month Frederic Remington was dead—December 26, 1909—the victim of appendicitis and his own voracious appetite for food and drink. He had clambered on and off the water wagon so many times over the years that he must have lost count; what did not change was the upward curve of his weight. He weighed around three hundred pounds near the end and knew that he was tempting fate. "I can't plead age exactly," he had written frankly a few years before, "but I did most d—- faithfully burn the candle at both ends in the days of my youth and I got the high sign to slow down some little time since. Therefore I have cut out the 'boys' . . . I always loose my bridle and when I get going I never know when to stop. If there is anything in the world I love it is to sit 'round the mahogany with a bunch of good fellows and talk through my ha—I like it a lot better than it likes me and I greatly fear it will take more than a year of training to make a calm eyed philosopher out of me." A man of prodigious bulk, Remington had the energies and talent to match. In a career spanning less than twenty-five years he produced a huge body of work—illustration, painting, sculpture, nonfiction, and fiction—the vast majority of it centered on the West. His influence in shaping the West of the popular imagination cannot be overstated. "Buffalo Bill, Ned Buntline, and Frederic Remington-ah, . . . It is something to have created a region as large as the American west," Emerson Hough wrote, not without a touch of malice, "and lo! have not these three done that thing? Never mind about the facts. They are the story." Remington's influence, like his sculpture, has proven "something that burglar won't have, moth eat, or time blacken." It has endured.

Remington's was a West without much softness or subtlety. It was, instead, a grand theater for the testing of manhood. It was a throwback to pioneering days, the molding of the national character, and the setting for a great drama. The winning of the West was his theme, and he never outgrew it. He might find more pure enjoyment in the small, plein air landscapes he painted along the St. Lawrence, but he never turned his back on his bread and butter. In his last summer he drew a clear line between business and pleasure when he proposed giving his new neighbors "a small landscape—not the 'Grand Frontier' but a small intimate Eastern thing which will sit as a friend at their elbow." His final exhibition included a mixture—six landscapes and seventeen paintings, all but one on Western themes. As he confidently predicted a year or so before he died, "we fellows who are doing the 'old America' which is so fast passing will have an audiance in posterity whether we do at present or not."

Like Frederic Remington, Charles Marion Russell was born to comfortable circumstances and would receive his first exposure to the West in Montana. His first job there would be as a lowly sheepherder rather than a lordly cowboy. But there the similarities end. For Russell, born in St. Louis on March 19, 1864, was so captivated by Montana when he visited in 1880 that he chose to stay, becoming in fact the Westerner that both men as boys had dreamed of being. Indeed, it was his persistence about that dream that induced Russell's parents to let him go West as a sixteenth-birthday present. He was to earn his keep tending sheep for a family acquaintance, but inattentiveness cost him his job and he got the reputation of being ornery and irresponsible. Ignoring advice to go home and grow up, he stayed on, assisting a professional hunter who taught him "nature's secrets," and eventually landing a position in 1882 wrangling horses on a cattle drive. He was still wrangling for a living eleven years later, and while he never claimed to be "a good roper nor rider" he was a genuine cowboy, proud of his profession and in love with Montana's wide open spaces. But change was all about him. The bitter winter of 1886-1887 checked the booming, speculative cattle industry and marked the end of the cattleman's dominion on the northern plains. Railroads and settlers were altering the face of the land. The days of free grass and the unfenced range were ending, and for Russell the cowboy life was over by 1893.

Even while working as a wrangler, Russell established a local reputation as the affable (some said bone lazy) cowboy who loved to draw. His sketches were crude, but the earliest of them showed an observant eye, a feeling for animal and human anatomy, a sense of humor, and a flair for portraying action—all hallmarks of Russell's mature art. Russell captured attention with a little watercolor depicting the devastation brought about by the winter of 1886-1887—Waiting for a Chinook (1887; Montana Stockgrowers Association, Helena)—and had a few works reproduced nationally before he quit the range to take up art full time. But fame and fortune did not prove synonymous, and it was uncertain he would ever make a real living from his painting when in 1896 he married a young woman named Nancy Cooper. She saw something in the rough-hewn Cowboy Artist that many of his contemporaries did not: the talent to be great.

Nancy Russell provided the business sense and drive that eventually made her unambitious husband one of America's most successful artists. This meant exerting control over his financial affairs, of course; but it also meant managing his time, limiting the hours he spent drinking and socializing with his old cowboy cronies, keeping him at his easel, and then marketing what he produced. Because she was his business manager, Nancy looms large in the Charlie Russell story, while Eva Remington remains discreetly obscure, overshadowed by the exclusively masculine concerns celebrated in her husband's art. Success did not come easily for Nancy. Montana offered few opportunities for sales, so beginning late in 1903 the Russells began branching out. They visited New York most years, established contacts with other artists interested in Western themes, secured illustrating assignments (at the very time Remington was getting out of illustration in order to concentrate on his painting), and gained exposure through exhibitions and press coverage. While critics may not have taken Russell's art too seriously in this period, they found the artist fascinating. Russell stoutly insisted upon his right to be himself. He dressed as he pleased—in cowboy boots and Stetson, with a woven sash to hold up his pants and, he believed, keep his stomach small. His talk, which was guarded and laconic in the best Gary Cooper fashion when he was around strangers, flowed among friends, who regarded him as a master storyteller and delighted in his dry wit just as readers of his illustrated letters still do. Russell won people over without trying and made the idea of a Cowboy Artist as popular as his paintings. Finally, a one-man show at New York's Folsom Galleries in 1911, followed three years later by an exhibition at the Doré Galleries in London, marked Russell's emergence as a major figure in the big-time art world. Nancy made certain that his prices kept pace with his fame, and her efforts paid off with a jackpot of $10,000 for a single oil in 1921 and a commission for $30,000 for a mural finished a few months before his death on October 24, 1926.

Russell never let his success go to his head. Pomposity was foreign to him, and he always felt most comfortable at home in Great Falls, where he and Nancy lived from 1897 on. He stopped drinking by 1908, but still mixed with his "bunch" whenever he could, and downtown Great Falls' cigar stores and bars—notably the Mint and the Silver Dollar—were favorite haunts. He needed these contacts. Old friends kept his art vital, for Russell really had only one theme—"the west that has passed"—and they were his links to yesterday. "When the nester turned the West grass side down, he buried the trails we traveled," Russell commented to a former cowboy. "But he could not wipe from our memorys the life we loved. Man may lose a sweetheart but he dont forget her." The same refrain informed his art. As much as Remington, Russell could do the wild, wild West, but his work expressed a consistent larger vision suggested by the buffalo skulls that dotted his paintings from the beginning and became a part of his signature. He felt the passing of the West. Remington knew that his West, too, had vanished, and he took to lamenting it in prose and paint and bronze. But Russell's sense of loss touched him with an emotional immediacy. He was haunted not just by the youthful fantasies that first kindled both men's artistry, but by memories of what once was and by the evidence of change that surrounded him as an everyday reality. Thus his art speaks with an almost mystical passion of lost love, while Remington's tells with some detachment of boyhood dreams betrayed by the imperatives of advancing age.

Their separate visions are at the heart of their separate achievements. Remington knew the Southwest best and through the 1890s was more interested in the West as a minimalist stage for action—yellow ochre sands, powder blue skies—than in the land itself. "Remington was a painter and illustrator of men and horses," an obituary noted. "With him landscapes were always a minor objective." Russell, in contrast, elaborated setting in his paintings. Montana was home to him, as the Adirondacks and Chippewa Bay on the St. Lawrence were to Remington, and he cherished the landmarks that identified specific locales—the Judith Basin, the Great Falls area, Glacier Park. A glance at the paintings in the Richardson Collection establishes this obvious distinction. In their time, and especially after Remington's death in 1909, the two were often compared. The Eastern press regularly described Russell as Remington's successor; it was a way of indicating that his subject matter was Western but was not helpful in getting at the differences between them. The Western press, in turn, was more strident than analytical. "The effete east has her Remington," a Butte, Montana, paper observed in 1903, "but the glorious west has her Russell." A state official was more reasonable the next year in an address delivered at the World's Fair Grounds in St. Louis when he characterized the Russells on exhibit there as "some of the most captivating artistic work of the age" and their creator, "an ordinary cowboy from the City of Great Falls," as "the peer of Remington, and one of the artists destined to live in the history of art within the lines he has made his own." Pride mixed with pugnacity in such assessments. From them it becomes clear that the case for Russell's superiority rested on the fact that he actually lived in the West. "Some of Frederic Remington's illustrations are magnificent," a Texas cattleman explained in 1908, "but in certain of his pictures, in not a few of them, in fact, Mr. Remington has not been accurate. This is probably due to the fact that he doesn't know the men and the life with that thorough knowledge an artist who paints it should have. One must live among them to acquire it."

That was the rub: "Remington never lived in the west, notwithstanding statements to the contrary," and thus "the knowledge of the western types he gained was superficial." Those who champion Russell continue to refer to his authenticity rather than his artistry—a position qualified by J. Frank Dobie, who also admired Russell's warm humanism with its concern for the individual rather than the typical. Leave Remington to immortalize frontier "types"; Russell offered the "speaking details dear to any lover of western life." That said, it must be added that Remington's influence on Russell's art was pronounced—hardly surprising, given Remington's preeminence as a Western illustrator through the 1890s. Indeed, from 1887 to 1899, formative years for Russell, only eleven months passed without at least one Remington illustration appearing in such leading periodicals as Harper's Weekly, Century, Cosmopolitan, Collier's Weekly, or Harper's Monthly, and most were on Western themes. Russell borrowed Remington subjects, compositions, and figures as he worked out his own approach and defined his own turf. The Indian-fighting army was Remington's, but Russell claimed the open range cowboy, the old-time plains Indian, and Western wildlife. They were his West, and a reporter for the St. Louis Star was unusually perceptive when she wrote in 1910 that while Russell's work had been likened to Remington's,

it in no way resembles it other than that of subject ... The treatment of the theme is entirely different. With Remington, the figure or group is the picture—the story; there is just a suggestion of landscape, after the manner of the illustrator, a background for the figure.

No doubt Russell was impressed by and learned something from Remington, some of his early work bearing this out, especially his drawings, but his strong personality soon asserted itself, both in conception and execution....

Mr. Russell paints the landscape with as much fidelity as he does his figures.... he gives a graphic description of the country which creates the rugged, boisterous, fun-loving, life-loving, jolly men of the plains....

... One can feel the alkali dust rising from the sun-baked earth, the dryness of the dead sage brush, and the refreshing green of the cacti growth, the grandeur of the distant mountains, and the light of the early morning sun, all telling a poetical story of the solitude of the plains and its people....

The sentimentality of the poet ill suits a man like Russell, still, his pictures often affect the beholder as some great powerful poem, more epic than lyric, in which he glorifies Nature, the living and the lifeless.

Russell rarely went on record about Remington, though he obviously grew tired of being likened to him and, when pushed, remarked informally on inaccuracies in his work. Since Remington, too, adhered to the canon of accuracy and was quick to cut down upstarts who challenged his supremacy in the field of Western art by declaring them uninformed, Russell's reservations were pertinent.

Did the two men ever meet? The evidence is slim—a passing comment by Russell in a newspaper interview, a cryptic reference by Remington in a letter—but it seems likely they were introduced to one another, probably on Russell's second trip to New York City over the winter of 1904-1905. Reinington was not one to relish rivals, and Russell received friendly coverage in the Eastern papers and magazines and attention from New York's professional illustrators who, charmed by his frank manner and droll humor, welcomed him into their ranks. No Russell-Remington friendship followed, though the comparisons continued. A St. Louis journalist in 1901 wrote: "Remington is the idealist of the new western art culture. Russell is its realist." Yet just a few years later a more perceptive critic said of Russell: "he is not a painter of stern realism, but rather a delineator of the poetical." The poetical kept recurring because Russell was a romantic. He worked hard to satisfy the demand for authenticity, but recognized, as he wrote a friend about his Indian paintings, that he had "always studied the wild man from his picture side." Much the same could be said about Remmgton's work—he dismissed Indians as uninteresting once they had adopted white clothing. Even a casual acquaintance with the work of Remington and Russell is adequate to demonstrate that realism is too restrictive a standard for evaluating their respective achievements. Nevertheless, there was Remington on the record remarking at the ripe old age of almost forty-three: "The youngster that attempted to portray the early West must get his material from older artists, since the typical figures of the plains are as much gone as the Civil War of the Paleozoic period."

The problem is that such comments by Remington or about Russell have been taken for gospel. After all, both men themselves had to rely on older artists—and their imaginations—in re-creating historical events preceding their experience. And both moved away from the documentary realism of their early years even as they became more technically proficient in the twentieth century. Ignoring subject matter, where there is obvious continuity, and relying on visual evidence alone, it would be difficult to believe that an 1889 and a 1909 Remington were by the same artist, so profound was the technical transformation as he self-consciously sloughed off the marks of the illustrator. We are told that Remington—who was outspoken in his Americanism and, like Russell, thoroughly parochial when it came to venturing abroad and studying the Old World masters—responded to an initial encounter with Impressionist painting by blurting, "Say! I've got two maiden aunts in New Rochelle that can knit better pictures than those!" But before long he was sitting at the knees of Claude Monet and learning from his American Impressionist contemporaries. Russell disclaimed any interest in "teck neque," mocked high-faluting artsy talk, and doubted that there was any more to Impressionism than a desire to hide "bum drawin'." But his own painting in the 1920s exhibits a bolder use of color and a painterly looseness that cannot be equated with Remington's Impressionist and Tonalist experiments but do indicate a similar evolution away from the linear and the literal toward an appreciation of light and the way we feel what we see.

It is an obvious point, but not all Remingtons and Russells are equally good. Dates aside—and the work of both artists changed markedly over the years—neither performed at an absolutely consistent level at any period in his career. Remington abandoned many paintings as failures, and consigned several others to the flames during his late-life drive for critical acceptance. "They will never confront me in the future," he wrote in his diary, "—tho' God knows I have left enough go that will." Russell, in an interview published two months before he died, claimed to have painted many great pictures in his mind but not yet one on canvas. Few things are more needed in Western art studies than critical discussion. Over twenty-five years ago John C. Ewers complained that "far too much" of the writing in the area "consists of biography interlarded with laudatory comments on the artist's work which are more akin to the unrestrained prose of the press agent than to the carefully weighed words of the serious scholar and critic. Too often writers have applied generalized slogans to the western artists—slogans such as 'he knew the horse,' or 'he knew the Indian,' or 'the Mountain Man,' or 'cowboy,' and such gross judgments have been offered in place of the much more difficult, scholarly criticisms of the individual works of the artists under consideration."

A turn-around point in the writing on Remington and Russell was Peter Hassrick's catalog of the Amon Carter and Sid Richardson Remingtons, published in 1973. It straightened out Remington's biography and dealt with his artistry in a serious way. With the Sid Richardson Collection again providing the occasion, Remington & Russell, first published in 1982, attempted a comparative consideration of the two artists grounded in the specifics of individual works. The Richardson Collection reflects the Western art market of the 1940s. It is heavy in early Russells, including three from the 1880s. Two are mainly of historical importance, while the third, Cowpunching Sometimes Spells Trouble, is significant in understanding Russell's evolving artistry. The market also yielded up twenty-five paintings from the 1890s, including the collection of Robert Vaughn, a Montana pioneer and a neighbor of the Russells. This was Russell's most experimental period in subject matter, and an apprenticeship period for the full-time professional artist. He had much to learn, and these paintings show him going to school. The Richardson Collection is light in Russell's mature work, though there are three important oils from the years 1907-1909, and one of them, When Blackfeet and Sioux Meet (1908), is a Russell icon. Two paintings represent his work at his peak as a colorist—Man's Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed (1916) and Buffalo Bill's Duel With Yellowhand (1917), a superb action piece-and a single work, When White Men Turn Red (1922), vividly illustrates Russell's late life palette with its vibrant sunset tones. The Richardson Collection's Remingtons include strong examples from each stage of the artist's career, and a splendid selection from his last four years. Here, the market generously yielded up the Robert Winthrop collection (A Taint on the Wind [1906], Apache Medicine Song [1908] and The Unknown Explorers [1908]), as well as the luminous Buffalo Runners—Big Horn Basin (1909) and the moving The Luckless Hunter (1909). To this rich group the Sid W. Richardson Foundation added two more important pieces—The Dry Camp (1907) and Scare in a Pack Train (1908)—to mark the official opening of the Sid Richardson Collection in 1983, and another ten years later, Among the Led Horses (1909). The assemblage now is simply unequaled.

Since the first appearance of this catalog, there has been an efflorescence in the scholarship on Remington and Russell, and I have tried to reflect it in the commentaries. Some have been substantially revised. Titles have been corrected where possible, and provenances added for many of the Russells. The focus in Western art studies has shifted somewhat in the last decade. While there is still a great interest in the biographies of both Remington and Russell, their artistry in particular has come in for searching reexamination. Their documentary credentials have been challenged and a new stress placed on the imaginative, creative, visionary qualities of their work. They are no longer seen as literalists but rather as interpreters who shaped their own experiences in their art and in the process shaped the public's understanding of the West. There has also been an attempt to free Remington from the shackles of subject matter and to consider his work from a purely artistic standpoint. The net effect would be to position Remington among his peers as an American artist instead of isolating him as a Western artist. It would also free him from the current judgment, based on its content, that his work can be dismissed as art because the values it upholds are no longer acceptable. Remington has been characterized as the champion of "triumphalism"—the white man's glorious winning of the West—and as a particularly nasty turn-of-the-century bigot. The foundation of his reputation—the subjects he painted and the way he portrayed them—is no longer secure; any attempt to defend his reputation must retreat to the higher ground of artistic excellence.

But Remington himself has proven refractory material. He was a man of his time, and his views were his own. He stood pretty much behind what his art showed. Moreover, he never apologized for his subjects. "You see there is a wide fundamental split between myself and the school which holds that subject matter is of no importance in painting," he explained. "I believe it is. I was born wanting to do certain phases of life and I am going to die doing them. This school ought to forgive me for wanting to do man and horses and landscapes of the West and hold it of no importance. The school considers only my paint." Still, he was "willing to be judged from their small standpoint." Of course Remington's stature as an artist was no "small" thing. But his persistence in his themes is the source of his vast influence, and however unfashionable they may be today, they constitute his enduring claim to cultural importance.

No one has advanced a comparable case for Russell on purely artistic grounds, or argued that he be granted a high place in America's artistic pantheon. But his subject matter, superficially so similar, is acceptable, where Remington's is not. Russell's treatment is the difference. He was dancing with wolves long before Kevin Costner was born. His West, unfenced and open, is a great space to ride across, and an invitation to dream. And it is irretrievably lost. Gone with the wind. Magic in memory. Russell's palpable nostalgia, his yearning and regret, make his vision feel modern. The core of his work is a sustained elegy in which time stands still. No triumphalism for him, no celebration of civilization's progress and savagery's defeat. No thundering charges by conquering boys in blue. No cheering them on. Just images of the "onley real American," proud Indian men and women riding across the land they owned. And of cowboys in their careless youth, outside the imperatives of change, free never to grow old. And of wild animals, destined not for some hunter's trophy room but to grace the mountains and howl at the moon long after we have passed by. And of buttes and rivers, there for the duration, and of plains stretching to the limits of our imagination—and beyond. Through his art, Russell speaks to us in the present voice, and what he says constitutes his claim to greatness.

Brian W. Dippie is a professor of history at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

From reviews of the first edition:

"Richly illustrated . . . this handsome volume presents the rugged beauty and rowdy spirit of life on the frontier, as captured by two master painters."
Art Gallery International

". . . large color plates beautifully reproduce dashing, romantic scenes of frontier life created by two of the West's foremost portrayers."
American West

"The many devotees of Remington and Russell and of Western art in general will want to add this handsome volume to their collection."
Arizona Highways

"... the University of Texas Press, as one would expect, has produced a beautiful book ...."
Montana

Also by Author

Nomad MORE +