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Jul 5, 2012
Artist of the Month C.M. Russell
Charles Marion Russell is one of my favorite western artists. I love how he used color and told such great stories with his work. I felt very blessed and privilaged to have my work hanging in his Museum in Great Falls Montana for three years in the late 90's.
Charles M. Russell - Montana's most famous artist, and, along with Frederic Remington, one of the two most famous artists ever to paint the West - He painted what he witnessed. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri on March 19, 1864. Just four years after Custer's fatal last stand at the Little Big Horn he came to Montana in 1880, at the age of 16.
As a boy, he crafted his own expectations of the American West by filling his schoolbooks with drawings of cowboys and Indians. Shortly before turning 16, he arrived in Montana where he spent eleven years working various ranching jobs. He sketched in his free time and soon gained a local reputation as an artist. His firsthand experience as a ranch hand and his intimate knowledge of outdoor life contributed to the distinctive realism characteristic of his style
Considered a sensitive, modest and unassuming man, Russell simply saw his great talent as merely "luck. "I am old-fashioned and peculiar in my dress. I am eccentric (that is a polite way of saying you're crazy). I believe in luck and have lots of it...Any man that can make a living doing what he likes is lucky, and I'm that."
"Marion Russell was an accomplished painter, sculptor, illustrator, and a gifted storyteller. Painting in a time when there was considerable interest in the West, Russell's works were popular because of their narrative subject matter, unique style, and dynamic action. In addition, he had the ability to paint fictional history.
In 1882 he went to work as a cowboy, working as night wrangler on cattle drives and round-ups. During the bitter cold winter of 1886-1887, Charlie was staying on the O.H. Ranch. In a reply to the owners of the ranch who asked about the condition of their herd, Charlie drew a sketch of a gaunt, starving cow surrounded by wolves, and titled it "Waiting for a Chinook" The sketch was reproduced in the Montana newspapers, and is still today one of Charlie's best-known pictures
During his days on the range, Charlie always had a sketchpad and some brushes with him, and occasionally he tried to make his living as an artist. But he always went back to working as a cowboy, saying he'd "rather be a poor cow puncher than a poor artist." But in 1896 his situation turned around. He married a pretty young girl named Nancy Cooper, and as soon as she took over the business end of his art career, things began to look up. Within just a few years Nancy was charging collectors what Charlie always called "dead man's prices."
In September 1896, he married Nancy Cooper, who became his business manager. Under her support and guidance, Russell gained national recognition and successfully marketed his art. Russell learned from observation, and his art improved dramatically after 1903 when he and Nancy began making regular visits to New York. It was here that Russell began working with a group of experienced illustrators, where he enjoyed being part of an artistic community—something he lacked back home in Montana
Russell painted and sculpted in his log studio adjacent to their Great Falls home, filling it with his vast collection of Native American and cowboy objects. Russell completed all of his major paintings in the studio after it was constructed in 1903. Having the talent to successfully work in many mediums, Russell created whimsical wax animals and clay and plaster figures, but he also made more formal sculptures, many of which were cast in bronze. Russell enjoyed modeling animal figures on oddly shaped roots or branch fragments. Mountain Mother captures the playful nature of the cubs and the watchful, protective instinct of the sow.
American Indian women played important roles in a number of Russell paintings, such as Indian Women Moving Camp, and he produced several versions of the subject. The seasonal rounds of Plains tribes provided the artist with the opportunity of depicting the Indian women proudly riding on horseback. He used a compositional group placed at a slight diagonal to the picture plane that is similar to his subject of Indian warriors. Thus he accords the same dignity to the women's work and reveals his admiration for the resourcefulness, independence, and courage of Plains Indian women.
Charlie Russell became not only the favorite son of his home state of Montana, but also the personification of the West itself. He wanted little to do with the present and nothing to do with the future, and chose to celebrate and romanticize only the traditions and virtues of the West as he envisioned it. He wanted it known that he had taken part in the Old West, and was a better man for it. Even as an internationally known western artist, Russell cherished—far more than his skills—his friendships and his place as a peer among common people.
Russell completed approximately 4,000 artworks during his lifetime. Living 46 years in the West, he knew his subject matter intimately, setting the standard for many western artists to follow.
Charlie Russell died on October 24, 1926, of heart failure, and he was deeply mourned by the entire state of Montana. In Great Falls, city offices and schools were closed on the day of his funeral. His first roundup boss, Horace Brewster, told the newspaper, "He never swung a mean loop in his life, never done dirt to man or animal, and in all the days he lived."
"Waiting for a Chinook" one of his most famous paintings
C.M. Russell Museum
If you would like to see the Catalog of this years C.M Russell Auction you can view it here: