The Thunder-Fighters Would take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum by Frederic Remington
About the Work
In The Oregon Trail, author Francis Parkman recounts how an elder Oglala Sioux described thunder as "a great, black bird. . . with its loud-roaring wings. When the thunderbird flapped its wings over a lake, they struck lightning from the water. It is said to have wings with no body, eyes with no face, and teeth with no mouth." Remington's accompanying illustration in the 1892 edition of Parkman's book (displayed in the gallery), depicts Sioux "thunder fighters" braving a storm and their own fears to chase off the huge black thunder bird.
The original painting, in color, showed three figures trying to frighten the cloud down to the earth: in the foreground, a man beating a drum; in the middle ground, a man shooting an arrow; and, behind them, a third man standing, discharging his musket into the sky. Remington later painted over the third figure and the revised painting was offered at auction in New York in 1893 with a new title, The Storm Medicine. In early attempts to remarket his work, Remington occasionally repainted finished pictures.
Confirmation of the overpainting was not made until the mid-1990s. Noted Remington scholar Peter Hassrick, then Director of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (Cody, WY), was aware of Remington's illustration in The Oregon Trail. Hassrick initially expressed doubts about the current painting's authenticity, despite authentic stamping on the back and a Newhouse Gallery sticker. In the late 1980s, Hassrick began to consider that the third figure might be found under overpaint. He recognized the drum design in the painting as resembling a drum in the Remington Studio collection, and noticed a shadow of the third figure's leg directly above the drummer. The Sid Richardson Museum engaged a conservator to take X-rays and infrared photographs of the painting, to study the painting under microscope, and to send pigment samples to a research laboratory for pigment identification studies. X-rays revealed the third figure, pigment studies indicated that the paint samples were consistent, and the conservator assessed the repainting to be artist-applied.