River Drivers in the Spring Break Up by Frederic Remington

Name: River Drivers in the Spring Break Up | Artist: Frederic Remington Media: Oil on canvas | Year(s): ca. 1905
Frederic Remington | River Drivers in the Spring Break Up | ca. 1905 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

About the Work

In this intriguing work, Remington explores tonal, atmospheric effects, as he had in The End of the Day. He includes more color by depicting a reddish batteau emerging slowly from the low fog enveloping the background. This mistiness limits visibility and induces quiet caution for those in the boat. The fog and the ghostly figures contribute to the painting's mysterious ambience. Similar to other Remington paintings (for instance, The Unknown Explorers in the entry gallery), The End of the Day appears cinematic, in that it could today be imagined as a scene in a movie.

With its muted palette and relatively few compositional elements, River Drivers in the Spring Break Up exemplifies an assertion Remington made in 1903: "Big art is a process of elimination, cut down and out—do your hardest work outside the picture, and let your audience take away something to think about—to imagine." This picture does that by implying a narrative, and, by leaving that narrative open, lets viewers conceive their own stories.

Remington renders convincingly the men's measured actions as they navigate carefully through the ice floes. This solemn, even stately, image counters the intensely active and dangerous labor associated with river drivers. Their job was to get logs downriver to lumber mills without them jamming up, piling on rocks, or running ashore. In Remington's North Country many of the river drivers were French-Canadians and Indians from the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation. The log drive typically began in early spring, when the ice started to break up and melt. Remington's river drivers are testing the water to gauge when the drive might commence. Perhaps in painting River Drivers in the Spring Break Up, the artist was linking the Eastern log drive to the Western cattle drive.