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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

Frederic Remington (1861–1909)

Through his paintings, illustrations, sculptures, and writings, Frederic Sackrider Remington earned esteem as a chronicler par excellence of the old American West. He was born in upstate New York, in Canton, and in 1872 moved with his family to nearby Ogdensburg. Beginning in autumn 1875, Remington attended Highland Military Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts, a tenure that was followed by his enrollment, in September 1878, at Yale University. While at Yale, Remington pursued his passion for football and began his art studies, studying drawing with John Henry Niemeyer at the School of Fine Arts. This, and a three-month stint in painting and sketching classes at the Art Students League in New York in spring 1886, constituted his only formal art training. He left Yale after three semesters, following his father’s death in 1880 (he received an honorary degree from Yale in 1900). Remington then worked as a clerk for state agencies in Albany.

Remington’s career-long interest in the American West began to take direction when in summer 1881 he traveled to the Montana Territory. Two years later, he bought a quarter share in a sheep ranch in Kansas, yet his involvement in farming and commercial pursuits in Kansas and Missouri met with little financial success. Following his marriage to Eva Caten in October 1884, he established a studio in Kansas City, Missouri. Remington’s first published sketch—of a Wyoming cowboy—appeared in the February 25, 1882, issue of Harper’s Weekly. In 1885, following travels throughout the Southwest, he returned to New York, settling in Brooklyn, and rose to prominence with black-and-white illustrations that proclaimed his artistic ability and his talent as a raconteur of frontier life. Between 1885 and 1913, Remington’s drawings were published in forty-one periodicals, including Century Magazine, Collier’s, and above all, Harper’s Weekly, the eminent pictorial magazine. He also illustrated books by such notable authors as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (62.241.3), Owen Wister (66.734), Francis Parkman, and Theodore Roosevelt, with whom he shared a lasting friendship. Remington also wrote and illustrated his own books and articles based on his experiences in the West. He served as a war correspondent for the New York Journal in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Much of Remington’s early writing was reportorial; he later produced short stories, eight anthologies of previously published magazine articles (62.241.2), and two novels.

Remington traveled frequently on sketching trips to the American West; his experiences with and observations of Native Americans, cavalrymen, scouts, and cowboys served as ongoing creative fodder for an endless stream of commissions for illustrations. While there, he also took photographs to use as reference tools for his finished studio works. Remington aspired most of all to recognition as a painter and began exhibiting paintings at the National Academy of Design in 1887. Four years later, in 1891, he was elected an associate member. His few surviving paintings from this period reflect an attention to dramatic narrative and anecdotal detail as in the case of A Dash for the Timber (1889; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth). Stylistically, his early paintings—with their tight handling and strong lighting—reflect indebtedness to French academic painters such as Ernest Meissonier and Édouard Detaille. Remington also took up watercolor painting at this time, displaying works at the American Water-Color Society. His subject matter offered a nostalgic, even mythic, look at a rapidly disappearing western frontier, which underwent dramatic transformation in the face of transcontinental transportation, Native American confinement to reservation land, immigration, and industrialization. As Theodore Roosevelt observed of Remington in Pearson’s Magazine in 1907: “He is, of course, one of the most typical American artists we have ever had, and he has portrayed a most characteristic and yet vanishing type of American life. The soldier, the cowboy and rancher, the Indian, the horses and the cattle of the plains, will live in his pictures and bronzes, I verily believe, for all time.”

Remington relocated his studio to New Rochelle, New York, in 1890, where he remained until nearly the end of his career. In 1900, he purchased a small island, Ingleneuk, in Chippewa Bay on the Saint Lawrence River, where he spent summers. Remington’s career took an unexpected turn when he learned the basics of clay modeling from the sculptor Frederick W. Ruckstull. Remington’s Broncho Buster (1986.81.2; 39.65.45), copyrighted in 1895, was an instant success, admired for its moment-in-time rendering of a cowboy astride a bucking horse. More than 275 authorized bronze casts were produced by New York foundries, first by the sand-casting method at Henry-Bonnard Bronze Company, and, beginning in 1900, by lost-wax casting at Roman Bronze Works. Remington went on to model twenty-one sculpture groups, almost all of western subjects. Some were inspired by motifs developed in his paintings and illustrations; others were innovative and complex multifigure compositions (07.77). His talent for sculpture was matched by his technical derring-do (notably textural detail and innovative patination) and predilection for storytelling detail, resulting in some of the finest American small bronzes of the time. Unlike most of his fellow sculptors, Remington rarely worked on a monumental scale. His only extant full-size sculpture is The Cowboy (1905–8; Fairmount Park, Philadelphia).

Remington was a skillful marketer of his art throughout his career, reflected by his ongoing commercial success and public appreciation. He exhibited his work consistently. The American Art Association in New York held exhibitions and sales of his paintings and black-and-white illustrations in 1893 and 1895; the Noe Galleries held exhibitions in 1905 and 1906. Remington’s statuettes and paintings were displayed for sale at prominent New York showrooms such as Tiffany & Co. and M. Knoedler, the latter which held several solo exhibitions. Remington earned institutional approbation as well: both the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in 1905, and the Metropolitan Museum, in 1907, purchased his bronze statuettes (07.77; 07.79; 07.80).

In the last years of his life, Remington worked at a prodigious pace. In addition to modeling his sculptures and managing their casting, he continued his illustration work. In 1903, he negotiated an exclusive contract with the pictorial magazine Collier’s for a double-page spread or cover illustration of at least one painting monthly. After the turn of the century, his painting style transformed to reflect the impact of an impressionist palette and sketchier brushwork. A series of nocturnal scenes of western subjects epitomizes his shift in emphasis from detailed narrative to atmospheric mood. Other late oils, such as On the Southern Plains (11.192), demonstrate a bravura handling of paint that complements the spirited movement of horses and soldiers across dusty terrain.

In 1909, the artist moved from New Rochelle to Ridgefield, Connecticut, which he learned of through his former Art Students League teacher and American Impressionist painter Julian Alden Weir. Remington died in 1909, at age forty-eight, from complications following an appendectomy. The Frederic Remington Art Museum, which houses paintings, illustrations, sculpture, and memorabilia, is located in Ogdensburg, New York.