FREDERIC REMINGTON (1861-1909)
During a career that spanned less than twenty-five years, Frederic Remington produced a huge body of work illustration, painting, sculpture, fiction and non-fiction - the vast majority of it centered on the West. His influence in shaping the West of the popular imagination cannot be overstated.
Remington was born in Canton in northern New York on October 4, 1861. His boyhood fostered a lifelong love of horses and the outdoors, while his father's tales of action as a cavalry officer in the Civil War inspired a passion for things military that found a western focus with the battle of the Little Bighorn during the nation's Centennial Year, 1876. At the age of fourteen Remington was smitten with the urge to go see the West for himself.
As a member of a prominent family, Remington was expected to graduate from college, prepared for a career in business, but spent only a year and a half at Yale University playing football and studying art. After his father's death, he traveled to Montana in 1881, and experienced his first impression of the West. In 1883, he moved to Kansas where he made an unsuccessful attempt at sheep ranching. The year he spent there was the only time he actually made the West his home, although he made many trips out West and occasionally accompanied the U.S. Cavalry on patrol along the Southwest frontier.
Frederic Remington's major paintings were tributes to the Wild West of fantasy. They drew on the artist's experiences for their sense of place and authentic details, but on his imagination for their subject matter. Remington's achievement was to fuse observation and imagination so seamlessly that his contemporaries assumed he had actually witnessed what he portrayed.
Remington had been exhibiting in major art shows since 1888, and was seeking recognition as not just an illustrator, but an artist in the recognized sense of the term. He made the breakthrough he was seeking in 1895 when he turned to sculpting, which he excelled at and which earned him the critical respect for his work that he strived for. He completed twenty-two sculptures, many which became the defining masterpieces of the Western art tradition.
By 1900 Remington had returned to painting and he began to experiment with impressionism. His technique evolved dramatically the last five years of his life as he rejected the crisp linear illustrator style to concentrate on mood, color and light - sunlight, moonlight, and firelight. His later oils are consistent with his conclusion that his West was dead. So he painted impressionistic scenes in which the West, now entirely confined to memory, was invested with a poetry and mystery the present could not touch. He died at the age of 48, a victim of appendicitis.
Source: Adapted from Brian Dippie, Remington & Russell: The Sid Richardson Collection. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.