Charles M. Russell 1864 - 1926
Born into relatively comfortable circumstances in 1864, just as the Civil War was coming to a close, young Charlie Russell’s hometown, St. Louis, was a bustling city, the gateway to the West, borderland between “civilization” and the rapidly filling “frontier.” Never much for formal education, the people and horses that lit out for the open range and the stories that swirled around them captured Russell’s imagination, while his mother’s interest in and aptitude for painting flowers—in watercolor—seemed to plant the seed that would become a vocation. Still in his teens, Russell convinced his parents to allow him to head West and try his hand at punching cows. He did, making a go of it even as he made fast friends among the characters of the Montana Territory’s Judith Basin. Soon, he began to try to capture cowboy life in art, principally, at first, in watercolor. Russell’s work was being published regularly in Harper’s Weekly and had been acclaimed as original, fresh and real even before he married Nancy Cooper in 1896. Nancy took responsibility for the business end of Russell’s art and proved to be a tough, shrewd agent for her husband. A career was born.
Early on, Russell painted the life of the cowboy. It was all new to him and he had a natural interest in realism, in chronicling the hardships and adventure of life on the range. But the Old West, evan as Russell was first encountering it, was already receding into history. Russell receded with it. The journalist became the bard. The chronicler became the myth maker. Russell shares this trajectory with Remington, but accepts it even more fully than Remington did. Gradually, Russell’s body of work, his oeuvre, becomes a single saga, a sagebrush saga, an epic of wandering, crisscrossing, occasionally clashing tribes: Indians, cowboys, vaqueros. Artworks rise out of the whole cloth of his mind, memory, imagination, fashioning a single entity of the fabric of the West.