Charles Marion Russell

(1864 - 1926)


By 1900, the glory of the West was largely past.  Having come of age in Montana, at the tail end of that era, Russell knew intimately the frontier lifestyle that had all but disappeared by the turn of the century, and he devoted his career to recapturing that history for an ever-modernizing audience.  Unlike other western artists, Russell could boast first-hand knowledge of his subject.  Not only had he worked as a wrangler and trapper for over a winter with the Blood Indians in Canada.  Russell passed on numerous opportunities for formal art training abroad, believing instead that true experience was the greatest teacher.  His time spent with the Indians profoundly affected his artistic career, for they became his most painted subject.

Early on, Russell’s paintings were appreciated for their authenticity and spontaneity.  There was an innocent, unstudied quality that separated his works from the more contrived, formal effects of his rivals, and that spoke to an audience with an insider point-of-view.  But he was further separated from his colleagues in that he had gained sympathy for the Indians and rendered their plight when others campaigned against them.  A lifelong admirer of the American Indian, Russell’s romantic interpretation of the warrior/brave was a consistent feature through out his career.  By the late nineteenth century the Indian had come to symbolize to the artist the epitome of Rousseau’s natural man, whose existence was as heroic as the landscape he inhabited.