Breaking Camp by Charles M. Russell

Name: Breaking Camp | Artist: Charles M. Russell Media: Oil on canvas | Year(s): ca. 1885
Charles M. Russell | Breaking Camp | ca. 1885 | Oil on canvas | Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

About the Work

Russell’s first major oil painting, Breaking Camp is a spirited depiction of cowboy life. After an early breakfast the young men try to saddle their horses only to find their mounts unwilling to carry the load. Like Newt and Captain Call from Lonesome Dove, some cowboys discovered a talent for breaking horses. Russell was no stranger to bucking broncs, having worked as a night herder and horse wrangler before pursuing a full-time career as an artist. When the cowboy artist painted this scene, the diminishing buffalo herds were only a recent phenomenon. The buffalo skull in the foreground may symbolize the elimination of these herds, making way for the open-range cattle industry. Russell incorporated the buffalo skull into many of his compositions, and by 1887, it had become such a fixture in his work that he described it as his “trade mark.”