William Herbert “Buck” Dunton 1878-1936
As a boy growing up in Augusta, Maine, where his father worked in the burgeoning sporting magazine trade, Buck Dunton loved to hunt, fish, and draw. He traveled the West in the summers as a young man, spending time among cowboys in Montana and elsewhere, making a name illustrating articles and books including many of Zane Grey’s classic Westerns. In 1912, after meeting Ernest Blumenschein, Dunton was urged to move to Taos, where he became the most Wetsern of the Taos Founders, favoring strong, curvilinear patterns and bold colors in his brooding depictions of the vanishing untamed Western wilderness.
About the painting.
In Three Montana Cowboys, according to noted Dunton scholar, Michael Grauer, the artist "pays tribute to Remington's 'action" paintings and sculpture, namely his painting Dash for the Timber and his sculpture Coming Through the Rye." Three Montana Cowboys, according to Grauer, "may very well be Dunton's direct homage to this Remington masterpiece." Through the painting is titled Three Montana Cowboys, in fact there are four, as a single ghostly rider, a kind of doppelganger to the figure at left, emerges from the dusty background at far left. And so this painting becomes Dunton' s contribution to a trope—four horsemen riding hell bent for leather, to town, to make trouble, to face trouble.
Why four? Four gives the sense of the four cardinal points of the compass: North, South, West, East. It recalls the four anchors on the clock: 12, 3, 6, 9. Four sides make a square, a solid fortress of shape. In other words, the four horseman come from everywhere and everywhen. They are unassailable, inexorable, a life force pursued perhaps by civilization.