Fredric Remington 1861 – 1909

 

Frederic Remington was born in Canton, New York into a military family with a pedigree dating back to the 1600’s. Apart from some talent for caricature and drawing, young Frederic had little in the way of aptitude and even less ambition. Roaming, camping, fishing—this was his idea of a life. After leaving the Yale College of Art after three semesters, bouncing from job to job, and failing to win the approbation of his fiancee’s father, Remington drifted west, into the Kansas Territory, getting involved in get-rich quick schemes that ranged from sheep to saloons. After winning the hand of of his fiancee, Eva Caton, Remington convinced her to go west with him, but on learning that his owned a piece of a saloon, she left him and went home to New York. But Remington’s first western folly had taught him something: caricatures and sketches could become paintings, paintings that people would buy, and so he followed Eva east, enrolled in the Art Students’ League of New York and soon began selling scenes of western life to Harper’s magazine and other periodicals hungering for stories and images of the “Wild West.” By the mid 1890’s, Remington was America’s premier illustrator of the American West, one of the architects of the myth of the cowboy. Not content with this, he turned his attention to sculpture and, with the help of Italian immigrants who brought the ancient lost-wax process to the United States, iconic bronzes like “The Bronco Buster” and  “The Cheyenne” established him as one of the nation’s most important sculptors. Remington also wrote many articles, stories and novels, including The Way of An Indian and John Ermine, illustrating them himself. Seeing war first hand in Cuba in 1898 seems to have changed Remington. He saw the unromantic side of war and found he had no stomach for it. Between this experience, his observations of the rapidly changing, rapidly fading “Old West,” and an interest in the new “Modern” approaches to art, his work began to brood, turn inward, darken—in fact as well as in theme. Remington’s late, last paintings—nocturnes and lonely scenes with simply, superbly handled negative spaces—are masterpieces of tone and mood grafted onto moments of nostalgia, desperation and solitude that shed another, less heroic but supremely human light onto the lives and hardships of the Native Americans and cowboys who grappled with one another and nature in the American West.

 

 

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