Editor's note: The following article was reprinted, without accompanying illustrations, in Resource Library on July 11. 2007 with the permission of the New-York Historical Society. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact the New-York Historical Society directly through either this phone number or web address:
Frederic Remington: Treasures from the Frederic Remington Art Museum
by Laura Foster
Frederic Remington was a New Yorker by birth and by inclination. He was born in Canton, raised in Canton and Ogdensburg, and made his professional life in and around New York City. There he created stories and artworks about the West that conveyed his New York-raised excitement to his largely Eastern audience.
When he died at 48, Remington had produced over 3,000 signed flatworks. As an illustrator, Remington made thousands of artworks -- often en grisaille (in black-and-white oil on canvas), ink wash, and gouache -- that were reproduced with magazine and book text. It was the massive exposure in magazine pages that launched his fame.
Remington was a very hard worker -- he spent part of every day in his studio. His drafting skills were modest when he started illustrating, but his combined talent and determination brought fluid proficiency and then mastery and status as a fine artist. Beyond his reliance on props, notes and photographs in making illustrations, Remington was also blessed with a keen visual memory. He had a knack for creating compositions that worked artistically and contributed to the viewers' feeling that they are 'really there', when in fact, Remington often created each scene whole cloth.
Born October 4, 1861 in Canton, New York, Frederic Remington was the only child of newspaper publisher Seth Pierrepont Remington and Clara Sackrider Remington. When Fred was only four months old, his father left for New York to recruit for Scott's 900, of the 11th New York Cavalry. Seth went on to great acts of leadership and heroism during the Civil War, and mustered out in 1864, shortly before the war ended. His father's dashing military persona made a mark on young Fred, who went on to attend the Highland Military Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he filled the margins of his schoolbooks with military-themed drawings.
After only three semesters at the Yale School of Art, Frederic dropped out of school to be at his father's bedside when his tuberculosis reached its final stages. Seth died in February of 1880. Remington held a series of jobs in stores in the North Country, then as a government clerk in Albany, all arranged for him by his uncles. He was unhappy in office work.
After an 1881 vacation trip to Montana with his uncle, nineteen-year old Remington envisioned his future as a western illustrator. He submitted a drawing from this trip to Harper's Weekly, which was redrawn by another illustrator, but still published by the magazine.
When Remington turned 21 in 1882, he received a $9,000 inheritance from his father's estate. This was enough money to follow a Yale friend's advice and buy a sheep ranch near Peabody, Kansas. Remington lasted about a year in the business, then sold the property to pursue other investments that allowed him more comfort and time to draw. He was a silent partner in a Kansas City, Missouri bar when he traveled to Gloversville, New York to marry his sweetheart, Eva Caten. She returned to her father after she saw what little he was up to in Kansas City. The couple was reunited after Remington took one more western excursion, and they set up a new life in New York City. Henry Harper recounts a colorful tale of Remington's appearing before him as an expert on things western, decked out in buckskins. It was enough for the editor to give Remington a chance. Remington quickly became a very busy western illustrator, first with Harper's Weekly, then with most of the great New York magazines of the day. He took the initiative to build on his three semesters of art at Yale by taking classes at the Art Students League. This would be the last of his formal art education.
After spending their first years of married life in New York City apartments, in 1889 the Remingtons bought a large home on a three-acre lot in New Rochelle, in New York's Westchester County. The home, which they called Endion, "the place where I live" in Ojibwa, was close enough to New York for Remington to boast that he could get to
Times Square with two horses in 30 minutes. It had property and outbuildings, allowing the Bergens, the cook and handy man, to produce much of the food served at the table. Remington had a large studio addition built, which is where most of his work was created over the course of eighteen years at Endion.
Remington took many trips to illustrate, and often to write, magazine articles about the American West. He had a great passion for military subjects at a time when most Indian tribes had been forced onto reservations. He befriended generals whose glory days had been in Indian-fighting, such as George Crook and Nelson A. Miles. He loved to ride with his young lieutenant friend, Powhatan Clarke, and his 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers as they trained in Arizona. He admired the Apache scouts with whom he traveled in search of Geronimo in 1886. He traveled to Oklahoma reservations where he had empathy for both the Indians who had lost their way of life and for the soldiers whose work was directed to keeping them there.
In all, Remington took trips West that amount to three years. Each venture loaded his New Rochelle studio with notebooks filled with pencil sketches and written notes and photographs, both those he took himself and those he bought from commercial sources. He brought home many Indian artifacts, such as beaded saddles and knife sheaths, pottery and blankets. He collected military and cowboy paraphernalia as well, such as spurs and chaps, guns and hats. His collection boasted a set of buckskins once owned by Calamity Jane. All of these items helped him to include convincing details in his illustrations. He furthered his knowledge base by amassing a large library that included hundreds of books on wide ranging subjects, including: George Catlin's Souvenir of the North American Indians, which Remington was proud to have found at a used book store; various US government surveys and reports to Congress; and books about world armies and military illustrators. Most of Remington's library, sketchbooks, and photographs are at the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, New York. The majority of the studio props are in the collection of the Whitney Gallery of Western Art at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming.
As an illustrator, Frederic Remington enjoyed tremendous popularity among the general public during the mid-1880s and 1890s. His name was a household word by 1900, as he struggled to abandon his illustration career and the stigma and artistic constraints that came with it. His audience read his articles in the popular magazines of the day, and the many illustrations that accompanied them. He also illustrated scores of books and articles written by magazine staff writers, as well as famous names, such as Theodore Roosevelt. Remington established a high degree of celebrity himself, and became the subject of others' praise in several publications.
He traveled beyond the West on various excursions with authors. He collaborated with Harper's Monthly writer Julian Ralph on numerous articles that took him into the wilds of northern Quebec, into the Canadian Rockies, and even into Appalachia. An early assignment for Harper's Monthly paired him with writer Thomas Janvier in Mexico. Remington had little interest in the Aztec ruins he had been sent to document, so wrote his own article on the Mexican Army. He paid many soldiers, representing various ranks, to pose for him, one by one, in the blistering sun. His old Yale friend, Poultney Bigelow persuaded him to take his only two trips abroad. First, they traveled to Algeria, where Remington was fascinated with Arab horsemanship. Then they traveled from Prussia into Russia in a series of misadventures documented in Harper's Monthly articles that were complied into a book, called Why We Left Russia. On this trip, Remington was most interested in the Prussian army and the Russian Cossack horsemen. He sketched extensively, took plenty of notes, and collected photographs. Bigelow was an old friend of Kaiser Wilhelm, a relationship that gave Remington excellent access to the Prussian military.
In 1898, when it came time to cover the Spanish-American War, Remington's love affair with the military ended. After nearly two decades of watching exercises, trail riding with the cavalry, and visiting forts and foreign armies, Remington finally saw battle. He was sickened by the human suffering he witnessed.
The Last Illustration Phase
Frederic Remington's fame burst off the magazine pages by the time he signed a contract with Collier's Magazine in 1902. He agreed to provide them with a color painting per month at the commanding price of $1,000 each. In each case, Collier's would print the painting as a color halftone in the magazine, usually as a two-page centerfold. Unlike the previous illustration work he did for Harper's Weekly, Harper's Monthly, The Century, Scribner's, etc., Remington was free to paint whatever he wanted. His images were no longer tied to text. Remington created most of the Collier's paintings in colored oil paint on canvases that were approximately 27 x 40".
Instead of a single, black ink printing, the color halftones were made with a multiple screen process, and each image was created with four sets of halftone dot patterns: black, red, blue, and yellow. These were cruder in their effect than four-color halftone prints today, but they represented a great leap forward in reproduction at the turn of the last century.
These Remington images for Collier's not only set Remington's artistic choices free of reference to text, the magazine's production of prints to complement the in-magazine images brought Remington's published art from the bookshelf to the wall in a big way. By far, the Collier's prints are the most numerous Remington prints. They were offered in the magazine by mail order for about a dollar each, often re-printed in different sizes, or grouped in folios with titles such as "Remington's Four Best Paintings." Many were marketed as "Artist's Proofs," a term that suggests that there was something extra-special or limited about them. It suggests that these were prints pulled first from the press for Remington's approval. The "Artist's Proof" tags carried a simulated Remington signature, which still baffles optimistic flea-marketers today.
Throughout his life he returned to New York's North Country to recharge in his own northern wilderness. As a young illustrator, he and Eva would come to Canton on the train from New York City to visit friends and relatives, then travel sixteen hours by wagon to Cranberry Lake. The lake is at the southern tip of St. Lawrence County, at the edge of the Adirondack Park. Remington filled sketchbooks with images of guides and campfires, canoes and friends. He also documented the denizens of the woods and their accoutrements with a camera.
When Remington was commissioned to illustrate Longfellow's epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha, he took the project to Cranberry Lake for the summer of 1890, where he drew 379 pen and ink illustrations and painted 22 canvases. Often he employed the local landscape and fauna in these drawings.
Throughout the New Rochelle years the Remingtons traveled north to St. Lawrence County for their summer retreat. They continued to visit family and friends in Canton and Ogdensburg, often getting to the relative wilderness of Cranberry Lake. In 1900, they bought an island at Chippewa Bay, in the St. Lawrence River's Thousand Islands. Remington named it Ingleneuk and reveled in its opportunities for pleasure. It came with a big house, a tennis court, a boathouse with a dock, and a caretaker's shanty. He built a studio at the rocky shore, facing the shipping channel.
The setting appealed to both his craving for an outdoor get-away, and also his gregarious nature. The nearby islands were occupied by friendly summer residents, so there was a great deal of visiting and dining, as well as tennis. There was a passenger boat that allowed him to take day trips to Ogdensburg, where he could eat and drink with old friends at The Century Club. He loved to bring friends and colleagues from New York City to come and stay. Still, even at Ingleneuk, Remington was a highly productive worker. As at home, he worked most days until 3:00 pm. Sometimes he'd paint at night, studying the moonlight.
Excellent train service allowed them to leave New York City in the evening, have a comfortable night's sleep on the train, and wake up at Ogdensburg or Hammond. The train to Hammond provided a convenient and reliable way for Remington to ship his completed paintings to Collier's in New York, where they would make them into color illustrations in the weekly magazine, then reproduce them as mass-market prints.
Frederic Remington was inspired when his neighbor, sculptor Frederick Ruckstull, encouraged him to work in clay. He worked on his first sculpture, The Broncho Buster, for a long time, and patented it in1895. Remington was chafing at the inherent limitations of illustration work -- the constant deadlines and the need to create images that corresponded to text -- and was thrilled at the opportunity to create works in three dimensions. The Broncho Buster was an ambitious form to cast in bronze, with so much of its weight cantilevered, rather than safely supported by three or four hooves. He first worked with the Henry Bonnard Bronze Company in New York to cast his first four subjects in bronze. Two of these subjects he also had cast at the second foundry he worked with, Roman Bronze Works, also in New York. While the Henry Bonnard foundry employed the sand casting method, in which each sculpture is nearly identical, he greatly preferred the results of Roman Bronze's lost-wax method. Lost wax is a truly ancient process, but was relatively new in the United States in Remington's time. In lost wax casting, a wax positive is cast in the middle of the process. Remington enjoyed the involvement he was afforded in retouching individual casts.
Each subject was cast according to demand, in numbers ranging from one or two to about one hundred and forty. Sculptures made at Roman Bronze Works under authority of Eva Remington and later by the estate are considered to be authentic casts. These posthumous casts are more numerous than those produced in Remington's lifetime. Forgeries began to appear soon after Frederic's death, much to Eva's dismay; and though the Ogdensburg museum kept the copyrights renewed as long as possible, unfettered production of Remington sculpture reproductions and Remingtonesque sculptures has flooded the marketplace since the 1960s. It is unfortunate that Remington, who obsessively monitored the casting quality of his sculptures, is now best-known by these tourist-grade imitations.
This sculpture was a commercial success, and became one of the artist's best-known works. The Broncho Buster #23 included in the exhibition is a very fine, early cast. At the time of Remington's death in 1909, he had completed the clay model for a larger-sized Broncho Buster, which was not cast in bronze until after his death. His excitement over this rejuvenated Broncho Buster relegated several other works to the back burner, possibly including Untitled [possibly The Cigarette].
In 1909, the Remingtons moved to a house they'd had built in Ridgefield, Connecticut. They only lived there together for eight months, before Remington's death of peritonitis the day after Christmas, 1909, following surgery for a burst appendix. After several years of traveling, Eva and her sister, Emma, moved to Ogdensburg. They resided in the Parish Mansion, which became the Frederic Remington Art Museum. As Frederic Remington had no siblings, and Frederic and Eva had no children, her estate formed the basis for the museum's collection, which has been open to the public since 1923. It is online at www.fredericremington.org <http://www.fredericremington.org/>, featuring hundreds of artworks and photographs from the Remington archives.
At present, Frederic Remington is a well-known artist, increasingly recognized for his artistic achievements beyond illustration work, and beyond the narrow subject of western art. In 1988, an important traveling exhibit, Frederic Remington: The Masterworks, raised awareness of the strength and diversity of Remington's work. More recently, the National Gallery of Art's traveling exhibit, Frederic Remington: The Color of Night raised Remington's late, innovative, moonlit paintings to a long-deserved place in scholarly acclaim.
-- Excerpt from Heritage, the magazine of the New York State Historical Association, Vol. 22
About the author
Laura Foster is Curator of the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, NY. Treasures from the Frederic Remington Art Museum is funded in part by a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency, and will be on view at the Fenimore Art Museum from May 26 through September 4, 2007
Resource Library editor's note
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Christine Liggio of the New York State Historical Association for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.
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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.
Remington and AVA: American Art is a 60 minute video from Mastervision and narrated by Arthur Godfrey. Frederic Remington immortalized the wild west in his paintings and sculptures, capturing for all time the intimate drama of the unbridled American spirit. The spirit of Remington lives on in the contemporary frontiers of American art, here paired on video with AVA, the prestigious Awards in the Visual Arts.
Truth of Other Days, The Features the art of Frederic Remington . 58 minutes (collection of Joslyn Art Museum)
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