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A Peril of the Plains
by Frederic Remington

"He is, of course, one of the most typical artists we have ever had, and he has portrayed a most characteristic and yet vanished 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."
President Theodore Roosevelt, July 1907


A Peril of the Plains by Frederic Remington



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A Peril of the Plains by Frederic Remington



Frederic Sackrider Remington produced nearly three thousand paintings, many of them on western subjects, and twenty two bronze sculptures. He had formal training at Yale University School of Art and at the Art Students' League before he went West.

When he was nineteen Remington’s father died, he left school and tried various clerical jobs. The following year, in 1881, his courtship of Eva Caten foundered because of the intervention of her father, who viewed Remington’s financial position as precarious. He journeyed west, traveling from Montana to Texas, sketching as he went. In 1882 Harper’s Weekly published an illustration, his first to appear in print. He was primarily an illustrator and this gave him the spur he needed. In 1883 he bought a sheep ranch in Kansas, from which he made further trips to sketch western subjects, and the following year set up a studio in Kansas City, Missouri.

Many of his paintings have inspired directors of Motion Pictures, not least the ‘Dash for Timber’ which I selected to illustrate my page on “Myths”. He recorded the mythic west and in many ways helped to create the glamorous but tough cowboy image by producing such paintings, which he loved to make more dynamic by including horses straining every sinew in their movements. Remington was also preoccupied by the cavalry and took pleasure in depicting their grit, determination and heroism in battle. In a way he invented the John Wayne character for the movies and gave John Ford strong source material to build upon.

Frederic Remington worked with in oil, water color, wash, and pen-and ink. Among the magazines he illustrated were Harper’s Weekly, Harper’s Monthly, Century, Collier’s, Outing, Boys’ Life, and Cosmopolitan. He produced his first sculpture, Bronco Buster, in 1895, Harper's Weekly devoted a full page to the two foot tall bronze model. When Roosevelt sought to appeal to what had made America the great country he wished it to be perceived to be, he eulogized such figures as Buffalo Bill and recognized the role Remington had played in recording the days of the frontier. In1909 he died of peritonitis, brought on by appendicitis.

"I knew the wild riders and the vacant land were about to vanish forever...and the more I considered the subject, the bigger the forever loomed. Without knowing how to do it, I began to record some facts around me, and the more I looked the more the panorama unfolded." Frederic Sackrider Remington, 1905

The above painting is trademark Remington, using the contortions of the pony to create movement and a tense, threatening atmosphere. To the observer the ponies will appear riderless, yet as the title suggests danger lurks out of sight. George Catlin had a much better idea of how the riders did this, for he explains that loops were braided into the mane for a hand grip and into the tail so the foot could be inserted. Otherwise it is hard to see how this feat could be performed at speed in battle conditions, when the rider could be shielded from hostile fire.







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© Chris Smallbone March 2006