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Capturing Western Legends: Russell and Remington's Canadian Frontier

February 8 - May 8, 2005

 

 

(above: Charles M. Russell, American (1864 - 1926) Stolen Horses, 1911 watercolour on paper. Collection of Glenbow Museum. Gift of A.R. (Sandy) Cross, Priddis, Alberta, 1999 1999.014.001 R)

 

Capturing Western Legends is the first exhibition to explore the legendary works of American artists Charles Russell (1864-1926) and Frederic Remington (1861-1909) depicting the Canadian West. Although Russell and Remington worked independently, together their work became the iconic imagery of the frontier -- capturing the essence of the time and locale, and evoking the legendary tales and maverick personalities of the West.

Featuring some of the finest examples of western art produced by two masters of the genre, this exhibition explores the history of the Canadian frontier through paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures. Depicting cowboys, Native Americans, the Canadian Mounted Police, stampedes, and vast western frontier landscapes, these works reflect the scenery, people, wildlife, and pioneering livelihoods the artists encountered in turn-of-the-century Alberta and deal with the life and death struggles of the individual against overwhelming forces. (right: Frederic Remington (American,1861-1909) An Indian Trapper, 1889. oil on canvas. Amon Carter Museum)

Although his legacy is so closely tied to the American West, Frederic Sackrider Remington was born in Canton, New York, and spent much of his life in the eastern U.S. He studied art at Yale, but abandoned his training to work as a reporter. He first traveled west to Montana in 1881, where he made his initial sketches of cowboys for Harper's Weekly. By the mid-1890s, Remington had become one of the most successful American illustrators, with his drawings of cowboys, Native Americans, and cavalry troops reproduced in Harper's Weekly and Collier's. This success as an illustrator eventually allowed Remington the freedom to focus on painting and sculpture.

Taking annual trips to the West to gain more knowledge of his subjects, Remington was first drawn to the Canadian Rockies in 1887 after hearing tales of the legendary Blackfoot Indians and the colorful North-West Mounted Police. Remington's detailed, lively depictions of the "Mounties," the Hudson's Bay Company fur trade, and Native American life were widely published and helped shape popular opinion about the Canadian frontier.

An accomplished painter, sculptor, illustrator, and storyteller, Charles Marion Russell was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but left at age sixteen for Montana. In Montana young Charlie Russell worked at various ranching jobs and sketched in his spare time. His firsthand experience on the ranch infused his art with the naturalistic, charming details for which he is best known. In 1888 Russell first ventured across the border to spend the summer in Alberta. He befriended several Blood (Kainai) Indians and developed a deep, personal understanding of the native populations in the region. Nicknamed the "cowboy artist," Russell made friends easily and enjoyed capturing Canadian frontier life in paint. As his fame spread throughout the western ranching community, Russell received several prominent commissions. In 1912 he was invited to exhibit his pictures at the first Calgary Stampede. There, Russell discovered a new and important market for his art, which encouraged him to paint more native themes and to further develop his heroic images of the Mountie. (left: Charles M. Russell, American (1864 - 1926) Bucking Bronco, 1917 watercolour on paper. Collection of Glenbow Museum. Purchased, 1959 59.15.13)

Highlights of the exhibition include Remington's mysterious painting The Sun Dance (1909), depicting an important Native American ceremony, and his stunning An Indian Trapper (1889), which shows the mountain scenery and native Blackfoot populations Remington encountered in Alberta. Russell's painting The Wolves (1914) captures Alberta rancher George Lane in the midst of a frightening attack on a winter day, while When Law Dulls the Edge of Chance (1915) portrays the firm justice of the Mounted Police. Also included in the exhibition are examples of Russell's enchanting illustrated letters, as well as a selection of artifacts related to the exhibition, such as costume elements, photographs, and documents.

Filled with naturalistic details, movement, and energy, Russell and Remington's western scenes seem ready to leap to life. As outdoor artists and travelers, both knew how to handle horses, enjoyed participating in native ceremonies, and took part in pioneering frontier life. Through their immensely popular images, Russell and Remington came to define the myth of the romanticized American West. Visit Capturing Western Legends to experience firsthand the images that helped shape the West as it was portrayed in popular culture from 1960s television westerns to Hollywood films.

Capturing Western Legends: Russell and Remington's Canadian Frontier includes 98 paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Charles Russell and Frederic Remington. There are also 50 related artifacts, such as Native American regalia, letters illustrated by Russell, related photographs, and weaponry accompanying the exhibition. This is the first exhibition to explore these legendary masters' artistic work in the Canadian Rockies and is organized and circulated by the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (right below: Charles M. Russell, American (1864-1926) Seeking the Trail, 1901 oil on canvas. Glenbow Collection. Gift of the Devonian Foundation, 1979 R2365)

 

Other reading

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy these articles and essays:

and these articles and essays on Western genre art:

 

Multimedia

Readers may also enjoy this video on Frederic Remington:

Frederic Remington: The Truth of Other Days is a 58 minute American Masters series 1991 video filmed in high definition format. It was directed by Thomas L. Neff and produced by Home Vision Entertainment.

This program traces the career of the brilliant painter, sculptor and author Frederic Remington. Hundreds of original artworks are showcased while narration by Gregory Peck, interviews. Location footage, archival footage and period photographs create an illuminating frame around the works of one of America's finest artists. Frederic Remington: The Truth of Other Days also explores Remington's direct influence on filmmakers such as John Ford and his continuing influence on today's popular culture.

 

 

 

 

(above: Charles M. Russell, American (1864-1926) One of the Rough String, 1913 oil on canvas. Collection of Glenbow Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. A. R. Cross, 1992 992.39.1)

 

rev. 1/21/05

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