Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Broncho Buster

Frederic Remington, a leading figure in American art of the Wild West, was born a century and a half ago today. His paintings and sculptures - such as The Broncho Buster - remain much sought after today. Thanks to a bequest by his wife, Eva, the Frederic Remington Art Museum, located in Ogdensburg, New York, has a large collection of Remington art and artefacts, including his (somewhat scanty) diaries.

Remington was an only child, born on 4 October 1861 in Canton, New York. His father was a colonel in the Civil War, and a newspaper editor. The family moved to Ogdensburg when Ferederic was eleven. Even at an early age, he was noted for drawing soldiers and cowboys. He attended art school at Yale, but left to look after his ailing father who died when only 46.

Thereafter, Remington tried various jobs but devoted himself primarily to illustration. He married Eva Caten in 1884. By this time, demand for his Western illustrations from Harper’s Weekly and other New York magazines had begun to take off. He held his first one-man show in 1890 at the American Art Galleries, and, in the same year, moved to live in New Rochelle. Travelling widely, he spent a lot of time west of the Mississippi River, drawing aspects of the frontier, and loving the life.

Remington’s pictures, Wikipedia says, ‘brought visual information to the eastern public accompanying both factual accounts and fiction of the Old West’. He was praised and trusted for the accuracy of detail in his work. In 1888, two of his paintings were used for US stamps; his first book, Pony Tracks, was published in 1895, and others followed, not least an illustrated novel The Way of an Indian. Around this time, he also branched out into sculpture, producing some now-famous works, such as The Broncho Buster and Big Cowboy.

Remington briefly interrupted his work on Western subjects when, in 1898, he went to Cuba to act as a war correspondent and illustrator during the Spanish Civil War. He came back disillusioned by the realities of war. Near the end of his life, he moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut, but he was very obese by this time, and ill-health dogged him until his death in 1909. Further biographical information can be found at the Frederic Remington Art Museum website, and PBS American Masters.

The Frederic Remington Art Museum, located in Ogdensburg, says ‘the depth and breadth’ of its Remington holdings is ‘unmatched’. The museum is located in a property lived in by Eva Remington (though not Frederic) towards the end of her life; and its holding - including Frederic Remington’s diaries - originated through a bequest by Eva on her death in 1918. It does not appear that the diaries have been published, though authors have used them as source material for research, and a few extracts can be found on the Museum’s website.

2 April 1907
‘Left New York on Central with Henry Smith on Limited 3:30 - for south western trip.’

5 April 1907
‘Got out a Tucumcari N, Mexico. 6:00 AM country green as a leek drove out but country uninteresting slept at hotel all afternoon. Local train late. Went to bed woked up at midnight, no train, back to bed . . .’

6 April 1907
‘Out of here at 5o’c. Got to El Paso at 6. couldn’t get room at Sheldon and barely got room at St Regis. . . First bath in a week . . .’

7 April 1907
‘Tired and loafed - short walk wondering when we will go or what we will do.’

9 April 1907 ‘Came up 900 ft. to Cloudcroft all pines and not very paintable. Horrible dinner. Something must be done . . .’

10 April 1907
‘Sketched all day - Mountain and horses beautiful weather fine sunsets on pine tress. Picture ‘The dead cow boy and outlaw horse’ . . . Henry wants to go Grand Canyon.’

11 April 1907
‘We can no longer stand the altitudes. My heart nearly stopped when I took a bath this morning. We are overcome by altitude. Went down to Alamagordo - engineer pulled the air on us and nearly killed half dozen people in caboose by shock. I sketched bluffs at sunset and had terrible ride home across irrigating ditches.’

23 April 1907
‘Sketched Rio Grand river - wonderful red color. Lunched with Terry. . . Left El Paso at night met army officer Powell at station.’

15 April 1907
‘Got to Canyon. El Dover Hotel. Sketched at evening. Canyon bigger than I was led to expect by descriptions or pictures. Met Artist A Keer.’

In 1996, the museum also acquired Eva’s diaries. It says: ‘[These] raise quite a few questions about the composition of our holdings. For instance, on Friday, June 27th, 1913, she writes, “In the P.M. I washed Frederic’s paintings and varnished them and made a great improvement.” Museums and private collectors are now working to remove such old yellow varnish from Remington’s paintings. On Thursday, March 18th, 1915, she records, “Went over things in Frederic’s desk & burned a lot of photos, etc.” We may never know what she deleted from the historic record, or, just as compelling - why she did it. Clearly our holdings were not preserved in a time capsule before they came to us, and sometimes not after they were here.’

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