Sunday, August 26, 2012


Obviously, I love the West or I wouldn't be associated with Sweethearts of the West. Even my contemporary novels and mysteries are set in the West, but I've written more novels set in the historic West as depicted by Frederick Remington. A few of his works are in the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. I love that museum, which is one of the few free museums around. If I were wealthy, I'd have a larger home with walls hung with western art. As it is, I look at books like the one Dover Publishing sells (with a DVD) of famous Western paintings. Let me tell you about one of my favorite Western artists, Frederick Remington.

Frederick Sackrider Remington was the most successful Western illustrator in the “Golden Age” of illustration at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century. Other Western artists such as Charles Russell (another of my favorites) and Charles Schreyvogel were known during Remington’s life as members of the “School of Remington”. His style was naturalistic, sometimes impressionistic, and usually veered away from the realism of earlier Western artists such as George Catlin. His focus was firmly on the people and animals of the West, with landscape usually of secondary importance--as opposed to Albert Bierstadt, who focused on the natural beauty with people and/or animals minutely included. Remington took artistic liberties in his depictions of human action, and for the sake of his readers’ and publishers’ interest. Though always confident in his subject matter, Remington was less sure about his colors, and critics often harped on his palette, but his lack of confidence drove him to experiment and produce a great variety of effects, some very true to nature and some imagined. You can see his solution clearly in the shadows below.

Aiding A Comrade, circa 1890

Remington was born in Canton, New York October 4, 1861 to Clara (Sackrider)  and Seth Pierre Remington. The family moved to Ogdensburg, New York when Remington was eleven and he attended Vermont Episcopal Institute, a church-run military school, where his father hoped discipline would rein in his son’s lack of focus, and perhaps lead to a military career via West Point. Remington took his first drawing lessons at the Institute. He then transferred to another military school where his classmates found the young Remington to be a pleasant fellow, a bit careless and lazy, good-humored, and generous of spirit, but definitely not soldier material. He enjoyed making caricatures and silhouettes of his classmates.

At sixteen, he wrote to his uncle of his modest ambitions, “I never intend to do any great amount of labor. I have but one short life and do not aspire to wealth or fame in a degree which could only be obtained by an extraordinary effort on my part”. He imagined a career for himself as a journalist, with art as a sideline. Can you tell he was an only child and much pampered? ☺ 

Remington was accepted to art school at Yale University, but while there, he spent more time in the sports programs than in attending art classes. He didn’t like drawing still life or from casts. He was an avid outdoorsman who loved horseback riding, swimming, camping and numerous other forms of exercise. He left Yale in 1879 to help nurse his ailing father, who died a year later of tuberculosis.

Living off his inheritance and modest work income, Remington refused to go back to art school and instead spent time camping and enjoying himself. At nineteen, he made his first trip west, going to Montana, at first to buy a cattle operation then a mining interest but realized he did not have sufficient capital for either. In the Old West of 1881, he saw the vast prairies, the quickly shrinking buffalo herds, the still unfenced cattle, and the last major confrontations of U.S. Cavalry and native American tribes, scenes he had imagined since his childhood. He also hunted grizzly bears with Montague Stevens in New Mexico in 1895. Though the trip was undertaken as a lark, it gave Remington a more authentic view of the West than some of the later artists and writers who followed in his footsteps, such as N. C. Wyeth and Zane Grey, who arrived twenty-five years later when the Old West had slipped into history.

From that first trip, Harper's Weekly published Remington’s first published commercial effort, a re-drawing of a quick sketch on wrapping paper that he had mailed back East. In 1883, Remington went to rural Peabody, Kansas, to try his hand at the booming sheep ranching and wool trade, as one of the “holiday stockmen”, rich young Easterners out to make a quick killing as ranch owners. He invested his entire inheritance but Remington found ranching to be a rough, boring, isolated occupation which deprived him of the finer things of Eastern life, and the real ranchers thought of him as lazy.(Refer to his letter to his Uncle Bill above.)

A Dash For The Timber, 1889

Remington was one of the first American artists to illustrate the true gait of the horse in motion (along with Thomas Eakins), as validated by the famous sequential photographs of Eadweard Muybridge. (Which I was fortunate to see at Fort Worth's Amon Carter Museum.) Previously, horses in full gallop were usually depicted with all four legs pointing out. The galloping horse became Remington’s signature subject, copied and interpreted by many Western artists who followed him, adopting the correct anatomical motion. Though criticized by some for his use of photography, Remington often created depictions that slightly exaggerated natural motion to satisfy the eye. He wrote, “the artist must know more than the camera... (the horse must be) incorrectly drawn from the photographic standpoint (to achieve the desired effect).”

He soon had enough success selling his paintings to locals to see art as a real profession. Remington returned home again, his inheritance gone but his faith in his new career secured, and he and his wife Eva moved to Brooklyn. He began studies at the Art Students League of New York and significantly bolstered his technique. Newspaper interest in the dying West was escalating. He submitted illustrations, sketches, and other works for publication with Western themes to Collier's and Harper's Weekly, as his recent Western highly exaggerated experiences and his hearty, breezy “cowboy” demeanor gained him credibility with the eastern publishers looking for authenticity. His first full-page cover under his own name appeared in Harper's Weekly on January 9, 1886, when he was twenty-five. With financial backing from his Uncle Bill, Remington was able to pursue his art career and support his wife.

Against the Sunset 1906

In 1886, Remington was sent to Arizona by Harper's Weekly on a commission as an artist-correspondent to cover the government’s war against Geronimo. Although he never caught up with Geronimo, Remington did acquire many authentic artifacts to be used later as props, and made many photos and sketches valuable for later paintings. He also made notes on the true colors of the West, such as “shadows of horses should be a cool carmine & Blue”, to supplement the black-and-white photos. Ironically, art critics later criticized his palette as “primitive and unnatural” even though it was based on actual observation.

After returning East, Remington was sent by Harper's Weekly to cover the Charleston, South Carolina earthquake of 1886. To expand his commission work, he also began doing drawings for Outing magazine. His first year as a commercial artist had been successful, earning Remington $1,200, almost triple that of a typical teacher. He had found his life’s work and bragged to a friend, “That’s a pretty good break for an ex cow-puncher to come to New York with $30 and catch on it ‘art’." 

Conjuring Back The Buffalo 1892

For commercial reproduction in black-and-white, he produced ink and wash drawings. As he added watercolor, he began to sell his work in art exhibitions. His works were selling well but garnered no prizes, as the competition was strong and masters like Winslow Homer and Eastman Johnson were considered his superiors. A trip to Canada in 1887, produced illustrations of the Blackfoot, the Crow Nation, and the Canadian Mounties, eagerly enjoyed by the reading public.

Later that year, Remington received a commission to do eighty-three illustrations for a book by Theodore Roosevelt, RANCH LIFE AND THE HUNTING TRAIL, to be serialized in The Century Magazine before publication. The 25-year-old Roosevelt had a similar Western adventure to Remington, losing money on a ranch in North Dakota the previous year but gaining experience which made him an “expert” on the West. The assignment gave Remington’s career a big boost and forged a lifelong connection with Roosevelt.

The Buffalo Hunt, 1890

His full-color oil painting Return of the Blackfoot War Party was exhibited at the National Academy of Design and the New York Herald commented that Remington would “one day be listed among our great American painters”. Though not admired by all critics, Remington’s work was deemed “distinctive” and “modern”. By now, he was demonstrating the ability to handle complex compositions with ease, as in Mule Train Crossing the Sierras in 1888, and to show action from all points of view. His status as the new trendsetter in Western art was solidified in 1889 when he won a second-class medal at the Paris Exposition. He had been selected by the American committee to represent American painting over Albert Bierstadt.

Around this time, Remington made a gentleman’s agreement with Harper's Weekly, giving the magazine an informal first option on his output but maintaining Remington’s independence to sell elsewhere if desired. As a bonus, the magazine launched a massive promotional campaign for Remington, stating that “He draws what he knows, and he knows what he draws.” Though laced with blatant puffery common for the time claiming that Remington was a bona fide cowboy and Indian scout, the effect of the campaign was to raise Remington to the equal of the era’s top illustrators, Howard Pyle and Charles Dana Gibson.

His first one-man show, in 1890, presented twenty-one paintings at the American Art Galleries and was very well received. With success all but assured, Remington became established in society. His personality, his “pseudo-cowboy” speaking manner, and “Wild West” reputation were strong social attractions. His biography falsely promoted some of the myths he encouraged about his Western experiences.

Remington’s association with Roosevelt paid off and the artist became a war correspondent and illustrator during the Spanish-American War in 1898, sent to provide illustrations for William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. He witnessed the assault on San Juan Hill by American forces, including those led by Roosevelt. However, his heroic conception of war, based in part on his father’s Civil War experiences, were shattered by the actual horror of jungle fighting and the deprivations he faced in camp. His reports and illustrations upon his return focused not on heroic generals but on the troops, as in his Scream of the Shrapnel in 1899, which depicts a deadly ambush on American troops by an unseen enemy. When the Rough Riders returned to the U.S., they presented their courageous leader Roosevelt with Remington’s bronze statuette, The Broncho Buster, which the artist proclaimed, “the greatest compliment I ever had…After this everything will be mere fuss.” Roosevelt responded, “There could have been no more appropriate gift from such a regiment.”

                                                   REMINGTON THE AUTHOR

In 1888, he achieved the honor of having two paintings used for reproduction on U. S. Postal stamps. In 1900, as an economy move, Harper’s dropped Remington as their star artist. To compensate for the loss of work, Remington wrote and illustrated a full-length novel, THE WAY OF AN INDIAN, which was intended for serialization by a Hearst publication. Five years later the novel was published in Cosmopolitan. (Hmmm, I guess Cosmo has changed a lot since then.) Remington’s protagonist, a Cheyenne named Fire Eater, is a prototype Native American as viewed by Remington and many of his time.

Remington completed another novel in 1902, JOHN ERMINE OF THE YELLOWSTONE, a modest success but a definite disappointment. Remington's novel was completely overshadowed by the best seller THE VIRGINIAN, written by his sometime collaborator Owen Wister, which became a classic Western novel. A stage play based on “John Ermine” failed in 1904. After “John Ermine”, Remington decided he would soon quit writing and illustration (after drawing over 2700 illustrations) to focus on sculpture and painting.

                                                   REMINGTON THE SCULPTOR

Remington then returned to sculpture, and his first new works were produced by the lost wax method, a higher quality process than the earlier sand casting method he had employed. By 1901, Collier's was buying Remington’s illustrations on a steady basis. As his style matured, Remington portrayed his subjects in every light of day. His nocturnal paintings, very popular in his late life, such as A Taint on the Wind and Scare in the Pack Train, are more impressionistic and loosely painted, and focus on the unseen threat.

The Bronco Buster

In 1903, Remington painted His First Lesson set on an American-owned ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico. The hands wear heavy chaps, starched white shirts, and slouch-brimmed hats. In his paintings, Remington sought to let his audience "take away something to think about -- to imagine." In 1905, Remington had a major publicity coup when Collier's devoted an entire issue to the artist, showcasing his latest works. His large outdoor sculpture of a “Big Cowboy”, which stands on Kelly Drive in Philadelphia, was another late success. His “Explorers” series, depicting older historical events in western U.S. history, did not fare well with the public or the critics. The financial panic of 1907 caused a slow down in his sales and in 1908, fantasy artists, such as Maxfield Parrish, became popular with the public and with commercial sponsors. Remington tried to sell his home in New Rochelle to get further away from urbanization. One night he made a bonfire in his yard and burned dozens of his oil paintings which had been used for magazine illustration (worth millions of dollars today), making an emphatic statement that he was done with illustration forever. He wrote, “there is nothing left but my landscape studies”.

Old Stage Coach Of The Plains, 1901

Near the end of his life, he moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut. In his final two years, under the influence of The Ten, he was veering more heavily to Impressionism, and he regretted that he was studio bound by virtue of his declining health and could not follow his peers who painted plein air. Obesity had become a constant problem for him due to his excessive eating and drinking, exacerbated by attending frequent banquets to promote his painting. He was admired as a "man's man and a deuce of a good fellow" among his friends and acquaintances.

Frederic Remington died after an emergency appendectomy led to peritonitis on December 26, 1909. The active man of his youth and prime then weighed nearly 300 pounds. His obesity complicated the anesthesia and the surgery, and chronic appendicitis was cited in the post-mortem examination as an underlying factor in his death. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Canton, New York.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks to Wikipedia for the biography.
Photos from Dover Publications
Sculpture photo from Wikipedia


  1. Hi Caroline:

    This is wonderful! I read every word. Have you been to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa? We have 18 of Remington’s 22 bronzes! We had a showing of his night paintings and it filled three rooms. There was always a line that ran at least half an hour to see the first painting. Those night painting are stunning. You have to see them in person to appreciate the colors and the moonlight. This was a special show which augmented the normal Remington paintings. We also have so many more western artists. It’s amazing.

    BTW: did you know that Harper’s Weekly published bound volumes of the magazine in fine leather bindings? I have one issue and it is almost like new.

    Are you going to work Remington into a story? I’d love to read it. Again: you did a great job with this post. Thanks.


  2. Great post. My Mom was and award winning oil painting. I remember her visiting the museum and talking a lot about her admiration for this work. I agree he was amazing as an artist and whatever else he seemed to want to do. One of our countries greater artists for sure. Thanks for posting this information.

  3. Caroline--what a fabulous artist he was, and also a true red-blooded American. You can spot a Remington Painting or sculpture right away--they are very distinictive.
    I loved all the paintings--looked at each one more than once. You never tire looking at them. He was a great talent.
    Your post was thorough and fascinating...I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  4. Caroline, I love Remington's work. I see Vince must be a fellow OKIE as he mentioned the Gilcrease Museum. It's a wonderful museum, as is the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum here in Oklahoma City. They also have quite a few Remington paintings and sculptures--I agree--those night paintings are my favorites. And guess what? I just found out the cover of my new release (Sept. 1) in collaboration with some of the Western Fictioneers writers has a Remington painting on the front! It's called WOLF CREEK Book 1: BLOODY TRAIL. Excellent post, and I loved reading all about him--I always learn something new here!


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.