The American painter, Frederic Remington (1861-1909), is famous for his drawings, paintings, and sculptures of American West cowboys and their horses which he created in the late 1800s. His art career started by providing freelance illustrations of the American West to magazines. Later, he decided to turn professional. He kept creating illustrations, paintings, and sculptures of the American West as a professional artist.
Remington had a concise career as a professional artist, but in that relatively short period, he created more than 3,000 drawings and paintings. According to art historians, his later works (after 1900) are distinctively different from his earlier works and are more “modern” than his older works.
In this article, we’ll briefly examine Remington’s life story and then discuss the trends in his later works.
Remington’s Life Story in Brief
Famous artist Frederic Remington was an only child who loved hunting, swimming, horse riding, and camping. From a young age, he was very interested in the American West cowboys with their horses. He was also interested in soldiers, the cavalry, and the Native American people. He started making drawings and sketches of cowboys and soldiers as a young boy.
After he completed school, he worked as a magazine correspondent and illustrator. In that capacity, he travelled a lot in the American West. He made 16 trips as a journalist to the American West. During those trips, he gathered information and made sketches, took photographs (black and white), and collected artefacts for his illustrations. These sketches and notes later also formed part of his inspiration.
Later, he became a half-owner of a Kansas City saloon but continued sketching. The saloon inhabitants were often the subjects of his works of art. When his wife left him, and the saloon business took a knock, Remington decided to become a full-time artist. His first artworks were sold to locals.
He also started his studies at the Art Students League of New York, and although he was there for only a few months, it enhanced his painting technique. In 1889 he won a second-class medal at the Paris Exposition with some of his early works, and the American committee selected him to represent American painting there.
After 1900 – Change in Subject Matter
In his later works, his subject matter became less straightforward, more ambiguous, sinister, and without unnecessary information. For many art lovers and contemporary “Remington followers,” that was a fresh new breeze in his works. His later works also lost the hard-edged, cartoonish quality of illustration and became more painterly.
In 1903, the artist created one of Frederic Remington’s paintings, “His First Lesson.” It depicts the workers on an American-owned ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico. The workers are depicted with starched white shirts and slouch-brimmed hats. This painting is an excellent example of Remington’s intention in his later paintings to entice his audience to take away something to think about after viewing the painting.
“His first Lesson” differs from his earlier depictions of cowboys and Native American people.
After 1900 – More “Modern” and Newer Techniques
According to most art historians, Remington’s art from about 1900 is more “modern” than his earlier work and is distinctively different to a certain extent. His “later period” started in 1900, when “Harper’s Magazine” dropped him as their star artist.
Remington wrote as well as illustrated a full-length novel, “The Way of an Indian, to compensate for the loss of income.” Unfortunately, this novel was only published five years later. In the meantime, he returned to sculpture and kept painting and creating illustrations. His sculptures later in his career were produced by the “lost wax” method. This method made the sculptures from this period distinctively different from his previous sculptures, where the sand casting method was used.
After 1900 – Illustrations and Paintings
After 1900, Remington’s illustration style also started to mature. In his later illustrations, he portrayed his subjects at different times of the day – in other words, with different light effects. As a result, his earlier illustrations are not as “light-sensitive” as his later works. “Collier’s Magazine” bought these “new style” illustrations on an ongoing basis.
Apart from his famous “daylight” cowboy paintings, Frederic Remington painted more than seventy different night scenes later in his career. His nocturnal paintings were popular in his late life. Examples of these works include “A Taint on the Wind,” “Scare in the Pack Train,” and “Fired On.” These paintings are more impressionistic than his earlier works, focusing more on an unseen threat than the actual subject.
However, he also received many negative reviews when his nocturnal scenes were exhibited for the first time. His contemporaries described them as weird and with a sickly green cast evoking the light of a full moon. According to Remington’s contemporary critics, his nocturnal scenes didn’t conform to the traditional night scene paintings of the time.
After 1900 – Large scale Sculpture and the last Works of Art
In 1905 Remington received a commission to make a massive sculpture of a cowboy for Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. The sculpture was erected in 1908 on a site chosen explicitly by Remington. Interestingly, the site where the sculpture was erected was exactly where Remington let the horseman pose for him.
This sculpture was Remington’s first and only large-scale bronze and is one of Remington’s “Explorers” series, depicting historical events in Western US history. Near the end of his career, he was veering more to Impressionism and would have liked to paint “plein air,” but he was studio-bound due to his bad health.
Nowadays, he is appreciated by critics for his successful “development” from an illustrator who only worked with black, white, and gray for many years to an artist mastering the use of colour.
Because Frederic Remington is famous primarily for his cowboy paintings, many art lovers forget that he was also a sculptor and that his career started with his illustrations for magazines. His style also matured over time, and some of his later works are distinctively different from his earlier works. He became more of an Impressionist and “modern” with his last works.