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Frederic Remington (1861-1909)

Page history last edited by SarahThrower 15 years ago

Frontier Imagery: Frederic Remington


“I knew the wild riders and the vacant land were about to vanish forever... and the more I considered the subject, the bigger the forever loomed. Without knowing how to do it, I began to record some facts around me, and the more I looked the more the panorama unfolded.”

~Frederic Remington




Frederic Remington (1861-1909): Renowned illustrator, painter, and sculptor of scenes from and about the American West. 




Frederic Sackrider Remington was born in Canton, New York to Seth Pierre Remington and Clara Bascomb Sackrider.  He went to school at the Yale College School of Arts for about three semesters and left when his father died, to become a clerical worker and a reporter.  He eventually returned to his studies and finished school at the Art Students League of New York. 


Although Remington spent the bulk of his life on the east coast, he made three month long annual trips to the frontier for many years.  His first trip out West came in 1881 to Montana.  It was with this journey that he found his first success as an illustrator with the first publication of his drawings in the magazine Harper's Weekly.  During his time in the West, Remington served as a military correspondent during the Spanish-American War, a hunter and a trapper, a reporter on the events of the Indian wars, and a rather unsuccessful rancher.  Whatever the success of his personal ventures on the frontier, Remington's experiences there gave him plenty of inspiration for his craft.  Remington's drawings and sketches grew in popularity as demand increased for images of the American frontier.  Remington centered his illustrations on cavalry scouts, cowboys, and Indians. Later in his career Remington expanded his artistic form to include paintings and sculptures.  Remington's paintings are particularly known for depicting "realistic details, tight use of line and clearly articulated shapes" (Buffalo).  He is also known for his extraordinary use of light, particularly in his pieces that depict night scenes.  Remington's bronze sculptures are also incredibly realistic and give audiences a real gritty feel for the American frontier.


During his lifetime, Remington was a prolific artist and produced "more than 3,000 drawings and paintings, 22 bronze sculptures... two novels... over 100 magazine articles and stories" (Buffalo).  It is certain that without the works of Frederic Remington, our vision of the American West would not feel quite as authentic.



His Art 

The art of Frederic Remington, particularly his bronze sculptures give audiences a real feel for how the American frontier really was.  Remington helped to create a prototype that connected the cowboy of his day, to the frontier mythology that previously had been comprised of fur trappers, hunters, and other outdoorsman.  This stems from his belief that "true manliness... developed in the struggle with raw nature...  His works include dozens of images of men against a barren landscape" (Hine et al. 721).  In fact, Remington is so dedicated to the masculine image, "women appear only four times" (Hine et al. 721), in all of his illustrations, paintings, and sculptures.  Of his use of bronze, Remington himself is quoted to have said, "I have always had a feeling for mud," and he imparts this sentiment into his pieces, further connecting them to nature.  Below are some examples of Remington's most well known bronze sculptures. 


This is Remington's first attempt at bronze sculpture.  This sculpture depicts a cowboy struggling to keep his seat atop his bucking horse.  Shannon J. Hatfield of Remington-art.com remarks that this sculpture was a gift to "President Theodore Roosevelt and the 'Rough Riders'."  Being only his first attempt at this method of art, this piece demonstrate Remington's immense skill as an artist, as it appears incredibly lifelike and gives the audience a real sense of movement and urgency.


This piece contributes to the discussion of real Western archetypes and masculinity because in essence, it depicts a man in the flux of nature.  What little the audience can gather from the environment of the cowboy and his horse is that they are on relatively flat land.  For whatever reason, the horse has become either excited or scared and rears back nearly throwing the man off its back.  The man has a whip in one hand while his other is clenching to a tuft of the horses' mane.  One could easily assert that this sculpture is a metaphor for the "human struggle to control nature, and has become a classic symbol of the American West" (Frederic Remington).


This is one of Remington's most recognizable and popular sculptures.  It depicts a fur trapper mounted on his horse traveling down a steep inline.  It was important for Remington to give the audience "a feeling that they are right there on the side of the mountain" (Hatfield), making the dangerous descent with the trapper and his horse.  While the focus of this piece is not that of a cowboy,  since the figure of the trapper is a prominent figure in the history of the American western frontier, it is still very relevant to the topic at hand.

This sculpture says a lot about male gender roles in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  It is cast in bronze which gives the piece a particularly earthy feel.  One could assert that this suggests real men of the western frontier have a sense of grit about their appearance.  Not only does the bronze color make the man appear dirty, his hair is unkempt and he wears a shaggy beaver pelt hat.  He does not appear to be particularly well groomed or dapper.  Rarely in the Western are educated, city-men such as lawyers, government officials or rich men the hero of the story and this sculpture tells us why.  This piece illustrates a more natural picture of masculinity.  One in which a man must rely on his own skills (or his horses skills) in order to survive in the wilderness.  His lifestyle was not glamorous as he had to hunt and trade to eke a living out of the harsh wilderness.


Also, the fact that the trapper and his horse are struggling downhill as opposed to uphill seems significant as well.  Perhaps this is to demonstrate to the audience that trappers work is never quite over.  Surely, he and his horse had to struggle equally as hard to reach the top of the mountain to hunt.  Now that the trapper is finished now they have to slowly work their way back down.  This imparts to the audience how diligent one must be in the wilderness if he is to survive.


This is another very famous bronze sculpture by Remington.  It depicts a cowboy sitting on his horse that is bucking from the fear of a rattlesnake on the ground.  This piece, like Remington's other sculptures has a very earthy and lifelike quality to it. 


This piece is pertinent to the discussion at hand because it exemplifies just how dangerous life on the frontier could be.  It illustrates how small dangers in nature can become huge, deadly threats to a lone cowboy and his horse on the open prairie.  Note the size of the rattlesnake compared to the rest of the sculpture.  It is incredibly small compared to the horse above it, yet the horse knows that while the snake may be small it is also deadly and it practically jumps in its fear of it.  This is not just a danger for the horse but also for the rider.  In its fear, the horse could lose its balance while rearing back and injure itself and injure the rider as well.  Or the horse could get bitten and simply die, leaving the cowboy without a horse for transportation.  Without his horse, the cowboy is nothing. 



Works Cited:


"Frederic Remington." 20 May 2003. Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Whitney Gallery of Western Art. 1 December 2007. 



Hatfield, Shannon J. "1895 Broncho Buster Bronze Sculpture." 2004. Remington-Art.com. 1 December 2007. 





Hine, Robert V. "The Myth of the West" John Mack Faragher. Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Ed. Robert

Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle Gary Colombo. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. 708-732.


Remington, Frederic. Mountain Man. Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth.


Remington, Frederic. The Broncho Buster. Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth.


Remington, Frederic. The Rattlesnake. Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth.



Further Research:


The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, has a lot of Remington sculptures and paintings on display. 


The book, Frederic Remington: The Color of Night by Nancy K. Anderson is a beautiful book which contains examples of Remington's Color of Night painting series. 


The Frederic Remington Art Museum, located in Ogdensburg, New York, has a fantastic website dedicated to the works of Frederic Remington art. 


Remington-art.com is an online museum dedicated to the works of Frederic Remington. 


The National Gallery of Art has a great display on their website about the Frederic Remington Color of Night exhibit.


Cornell University has transcripts of The Century Magazine online, in which Remingon wrote articles and illustrated the articles of Theodore Roosevelt.






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