Heritage of the West: Charles M. Russell
September 19, 2019 - September 19, 2021
Charles Russell was one of the great painters of the American West. With little formal training but much firsthand experience of his subject, he captured the western landscape in all of its wild and nostalgic moments.
In 1880, when he was only 16, Russell went to Montana for the first time to work on a family friend’s ranch. Ranch life was not for Russell, but he would stay in Montana for two years working for a hunter and trapper.
He began to draw and paint animals at this time and learned a great deal about their anatomy. In 1882, he went to work as a night herder for a group of cowboys called the Judith Basin Roundup, and on and off for the next 11 years he would work watching cattle by night and painting during the day.
In 1888, Russell returned to St. Louis for a short time and submitted some of his art to Harpers Weekly, where it was published. His work had become very popular in the Montana territory, and he began to sell pieces and take commissions for works when he returned.
With the advent of the railroad to Montana, the territory became more civilized, and Russell mostly gave up cowboy life in order to become a full time painter of the life he had known in the West that was now slowly fading.
Image: Charles M. Russell, Smoking Cattle out of the Breaks, 1912. Oil on canvas, 30 1/4 x 33 inches. Wichita Art Museum, M.C. Naftzger Collection