A Turbulent Painting

*The following is part of a series of blog posts researched and written by Dr. Mark Thistlethwaite, Kay and Velma Kimbell Chair of Art History TCU School of Art, and guest curator of SRM’s special exhibit Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East.

On a recent return flight to DFW, the Airbus in which I was a passenger encountered, in the pilot’s words, “moderate turbulence” (most of us onboard would not have used such an understated description). Sitting next to a window over an engine I was able to hear not only its powerful thrusts, but also the sounds of the mighty winds buffeting the plane. While I was listening to roiling weather outside, the title of one of Frederic Remington’s great paintings, The Howl of the Weather, currently on view in Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East, came to mind as an apt expression of what I was experiencing. You never know how or when art is going to intersect with life!

Frederic Remington | The Howl of the Weather | ca. 1905 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

The Howl of the Weather depicts the determination and urgency to find safe harbor. Two men are attempting to balance and control the birch canoe during a squall as strong winds and rough waves threaten to outrace the craft, which could lead to water swamping it. The perilousness of the situation is reinforced by the woman and child huddled together holding on in the center of the canoe. Remington’s inspiration for this painting may have been a story he had published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in August 1896, where he included the phrase “the howl of the weather.” Prior to those words occurring in the text, the narrator had described canoeing on Lake Champlain, where “the wind blew at our backs. The waves rolled in restless surges, piling the little canoes on their crests and swallowing them in the troughs. The canoes trashed the water as they flew along, half in, half out . . .”[1]

The Howl of the Weather’s setting is undetermined. When the artist entered it for copyright on January 18, 1906, it was described as “Birch canoe with two Indian men and a woman in the waves of a lake.” When P. F. Collier and Son entered an additional copyright on February 11, 1907, the description given was of “a canoe going along a river. . . . The water is very rough.” I like to think that Remington purposely kept the location vague, in part to maintain focus on the struggling canoe and the dynamic brushwork that conveys so well the rough water. Also, not delineating the background in detail contributes to the painting’s sense of the sublime.

The sublime was an aesthetic concept proposed in the eighteenth century, most famously in Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of the Beautiful and the Sublime (1757). This British publication had a major impact on shaping the rise of American landscape painting in the early nineteenth century. It contrasted the clarity and order of the beautiful to the vastness, obscurity, and irregularity associated with the sublime. Further, the sublime revealed a sense of terrifying power (not actual but imagined), which made it more emotionally intense than the beautiful. For viewers of The Howl of the Weather, but not the figures depicted in it, the scene is sublime. By expressing an image of nature that is limitless, shadowy, and filled with awe-full energy and noise, Frederic Remington’s The Howl of the Weather continued the tradition of the sublime into the twentieth century.

1970 Sunoco Brochure

Moving from the sublime to the seemingly ridiculous, I want to share pages from a brochure I came across while engaging in research in the St. Lawrence University Special Collections. As I am always on the lookout for examples of works of art being used in our everyday visual culture, I was struck to come across a reproduction of The Howl of the Weather in a 1970 Sunoco gas company pamphlet (“Sunoco-grams” for Sunoco customers) about preparing your car for winter. When I first saw these pages, I regarded the inclusion of Frederic Remington’s painting as quirky. But now I think that maybe Sunoco’s connection between winterizing your car and The Howl of the Weather is really not so very different from my conjuring up the painting while being bumped around in an airplane. Powerful art can function in many ways.

[1] Frederic Remington, “The Strange Days that Came to Jimmie Friday,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 93 (August 1896): 416

Remington’s Personal Art Collection

*The following is part of a series of blog posts researched and written by Dr. Mark Thistlethwaite, Kay and Velma Kimbell Chair of Art History TCU School of Art, and guest curator of SRM’s special exhibit Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East.

The inclusion of paintings by Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, and Anna Richards Brewster in Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East signals an intriguing but understudied aspect of Remington’s life: his personal art collection. While not a large collection, little is known how and when he acquired the art objects usually on view in the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, New York. Some are known to be purchases (the Brewster composition, for instance), while others likely were gifts from or exchanges with other artists; Francis Davis Millet’s The Cossacks is inscribed “To Frederic Remington.”

The Cossacks, Francis Millet, n.d., pencil on paper, Frederic Remington Art Museum Purchase, 2002

Millet (1846-1912), a well-established painter, illustrator, and muralist, produced this pencil drawing in 1877 of Cossacks raiding a Turkish Village during the Russo-Turkish War. Ten years later it illustrated Millet’s article “Campaigning with the Cossacks I: A Summer Campaign” in Harper’s Monthly Magazine. Perhaps Remington acquired Millet’s drawing between 1892 and 1894. In 1892, Remington and his friend Poultney Bigelow traveled to Russia where the artist made sketches of Cossacks, which appeared in the November 1894 issue of Harper’s as eleven illustrations accompanying Bigelow’s essay “The Cossack as Cowboy, Soldier, and Citizen.”

Robert Reid, A Breezy Day, 1898

Another artwork in Frederic Remington’s collection that may have been acquired by exchange or as a gift is A Breezy Day by Robert Reid (1862-1929), a well-regarded artist of the day and friend of Remington. Like Millet, Reid painted murals, but was also known as a “decorative impressionist.” Remington’s painting is undated, but probably was executed around 1898, because in that year a Reid painting titled Breezy Day appeared in an exhibition of The Ten. This group consisted of American artists who displayed modernist tendencies in their works. Besides Reid, Remington’s other friends Hassam and Metcalf were members of The Ten. In a review of the 1898 show, a critic wrote of Reid’s composition:

The “Breezy Day”—an enthusiastic sketch of a young woman posed against a sky of blue with hurrying clouds—appears hasty, though fine in spirit. But the hills and trees in the background are so dwarfed in proportion to the figure that it becomes at once that of a (charming) giantess . . . The air and sun are there, however, and we must thank both Mr. Reid and the wind-swept young woman.[1]

This description also aptly characterizes the painting in Remington’s collection. His more expansive version, which is thinly painted with a low range of color, suggests a full-size compositional study for the 1898 painting or another, unfinished work.

Robert Reid, Breezy Day, 1898

Evening (Holland), Blendon Reed Campbell, n.d., oil on canvas, 30″ x 36″, Frederic Remington Art Museum, Gift of Miss Emma Caten, 66.124

Paintings by Reid and Remington, along with works by two artists—Blendon Campbell and Julian Rix—also represented in Remington’s collection hung in a 1906 New York fundraising exhibition for California artists in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake. Campbell (1872-1969), a portraitist, landscapist, and illustrator, contributed to the exhibition a tonalist painting titled Evening—Holland, which reveals the influence of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, with whom Campbell studied in Paris. Ironically, Remington who disdained Whistler’s art apparently purchased this painting from the exhibition and later hung prominently it over one of the fireplaces in his Ridgefield, Connecticut home.

Blendon Campbell painting over mantle in the parlor of Remington’s home in Ridgefield, CT

Julian Rix (1850-1903) gained recognition for his landscape paintings of California and New York. He also was an illustrator (see the earlier “Tragedy of the Trees” blog). His painting Adirondacks in Remington’s collection is a fine example of Rix’s artistic ability. While Rix (like Campbell) is not well unknown today, in his lifetime he garnered such praise as:

He goes directly at the heart of his subject, and extracts from a collection of general natural facts the best elements that compose gracefully on canvas. One cannot remember how broadly or thinly any of Mr. Rix’s pictures were painted, but they cannot forget the deep enchantment they exercised over the senses.[2]

Adirondacks, Julian Walbridge Rix, n.d., oil on canvas, 18 x 26″, Frederic Remington Art Museum, Gift of Miss Emma Caten, 66.127

The dozen works from Remington’s art collection displayed in the Frederic Remington Art Museum includes paintings, drawings, and sculpture. Only two of the objects represent a Western subject. The surprising variety of artworks reinforces one of the aims of Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East—to consider anew this icon of Western imagery.

[1] Orson Lowell, “Three Important New York Exhibitions,” Brush and Pencil 2, no. 2. (May 1898): 91.

[2] Alexander Black, “An American Landscapist,” in F. Hopkinson Smith et al., Discussions on American Artists (New York, Chicago, San Francisco: American Art League, 1900); 72.  Remington’s art collection includes a work by Francis Hopkinson Smith.

Endion: The Place Where I Live

Without a doubt, the iconic Western artist Frederic Remington was a New Yorker. He was born in Canton and raised in Ogdensburg, both small towns in Remington’s beloved North Country. Like many artists of his day, he developed his professional life in New York City, having lived in Brooklyn and Manhattan before purchasing a house in New Rochelle, a suburb of the Big Apple.

Remington and Beauty at Endion. FRAM 1918.76.152.13

Frederic and Eva named their new home Endion (pronounced ahn-dy-yon), a Chippewa word meaning “my home” or “place where I live.” It’s hard to imagine that the home’s original name was “Coseyo,” as Remington’s description of his gentleman’s estate sounds far from quaint and cozy:

“- three acres – brick house – large stable – trees – granite gates – everything all hunk – lawn tennis in the front yard – garden – hen house – …located on the ‘quality hill’ of New Rochelle – 30 minutes from 42nd with two horses – both good ones on the place – duck shooting on the bay in the Fall – good society – sailing & the finest country ‘bout you ever saw – what more does one want.”

The Gothic-revival cottage was designed by Alexander J. Davis, a very successful and influential American architect of his time. Though the house was without a studio in the early years of Remington’s residence, he later contracted an architect to design a studio addition to the home. In a letter he wrote to his friend, the novelist Owen Wister, Remington shared, “Have concluded to build a butler’s pantry and a studio (Czar size) on my house—we will be torn [up] for a month and then will ask you to come over—throw your eye on the march of improvement and say this is a great thing for American art.”

Frederic Remington | Endion (Remington’s Home at New Rochelle) | 1908 | Oil on academy board | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Remington rendered this 1908 view of Endion a few months before leaving for his new home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. His description of the weather that day matches the composition: “Warm—smoky autumn—the finest possible day.” Remington’s next home would be his last, and is actually the house wherein the artist painted the SRM composition The Love Call. Today, the Connecticut home is a National Historic Landmark.

Frederick Remington House, Ridgefield (Fairfield County, Connecticut). 1967 photo from the HABS—Historic American Buildings Survey of Connecticut

Frederic Remington | The Love Call | 1909 | Oil on canvas | 31 x 28 inches