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Remington, Frederic (1861-1909)

Remington, Frederic (1861-1909)

Largely recognized as one of the great artists of the Wild West, Frederic Remington's own life mirrored, in many ways, those of his subjects. Capturing the last days of the exciting, vibrant western frontier, he completed nearly 3,000 works derived from working cowboys whose lifestyles were rapidly vanishing. Although he spent two years at the Yale School of Art and studied at the Art Student's League in New York, in the 1880s he went to the American West, sketching, riding, and prospecting in new territories. His traveling was to be his most practical on-the-job training. Commissioned by Harper's Weekly to provide drawings of the West for publication, the artist recorded the Sioux uprisings, Sitting Bull's murder, the capture of Geronimo, and the last great buffalo slaughter in the northern plains. During this time, he continually published, wrote, and illustrated short stories from his experiences with the cavalry and western escapades.

After watching Frederic Ruckstull in 1895, Remington decided to sculpt his cowboy subjects in motion. The clay models he made were then cast in bronze and became immediately successful, with his masterful ability to depict fine details, action, and characterizations. Bronco Buster, cast in 1895, depicting a bucking horse and a tenacious rider, became one of Remington's most identifiable works. Multiples were produced for the large audience that had been created through the popularity of his published prints and the art he had produced in Colliers and Scribner's. Since 1901, these drawings, since 1901, had appeared in full color, double-page spreads, further increasing the demand for his oil paintings.

Remington's work had the ability to connect directly with a vast audience that was often suspicious of "high art," people who were conventionally moral and patriotic. He worked at a time when the proliferation of newspapers and magazines provided a new vehicle for making art available to a mass audience with an insatiable appetite for dramatic content. As the popularity of his work continued to rise, Remington began painting landscapes, broadened his enthusiasm for easel painting, and heightened the exacting demands of his technical standards. Extremely interested in fine detail and a connoisseur of draftsmanship, the artist remarked that he wanted to make his paintings "so you could feel the details instead of seeing them." Two of his most famous works, Downing the Nigh Leader (1907) and Dash for the Timber (1889), realistically show the action and drama of the Wild West.

Sparking even more interest in his work, in 1935, wealthy oilmen, including Amon Carter, Sid Richardson, and the Hogg brothers of Houston, became major collectors of Remington's art. They identified with the dynamics and energy in the trailblazing cowboy and horse images, viewing them as similar to their "wildcat" attitudes in the oil business. Both the artist and the oilmen were enthused by active, physical movement, and the championing of the "little guy."

The value of Remington's work continued to rise into the late 1990s, when a posthumous cast of Coming through the Rye was sold in 1998 at Sotheby's in New York for $1,100,000. In his appreciation of U.S. culture one hundred years earlier, Remington had made a significant contribution. His ambition and determination, combined with his position as part of the West's vanishing, romanticized last days, helped to bring his works wide recognition. The printing industry expanded his ability to reach a wide, general audience as well as important men, including Theodore Roosevelt, who believed in Remington's importance and approved his efforts.

—Cheryl McGrath

Further Reading:

Ballinger, James. Frederic Remington. New York, Harry N. Abrams, 1989.

Foxley, W. C. "Remington, Frederic." The Dictionary of Art. Vol. 26. New York, Grove Dictionaries, 1996, 181-2.

Hassrick, P. Frederic Remington: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture in the Amon Carter Museum and the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Collections, exhibition catalog. Ft. Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum, 1974.

McCracken, H. Frederic Remington, Artist of the Old West. Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1947.

Mehlman, Robert. "Inexplicable Happenings." Art Newspaper. Vol. 5, January. 1994, 26.

Samuels, P. and H. Samuels, editors. The Collected Writings of Frederic Remington. Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1979.

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