Nowhere is the American West to be found more completely illustrated than in the works of Frederic Remington. Born an Easterner in upstate New York on October 1, 1861, he had by age 19, distinguished himself as a football player and pugilist at Yale. Leaving upon his father’s death, he arrived on the western plains in 1880 and found the demanding life to his liking, excelling in the use of the lariat and six-gun. He became friends with the working men of the times, prospected for gold, rode with military troops on campaigns, and roamed such fabled routes as the Santa Fe Trail and Bozeman Road. Remington quickly realized that he was witnessing the end of an era. As he wrote later in Collier’s Weekly: “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.”
Five years later, with his inheritance exhausted and a net worth of three dollars, Remington arrived in New York City packing his voluminous portfolios resolved to break into art and illustration. Initial successes were thin, yet within 18 months editors were seeking him out and his painting, “The Courier’s Nap on the Trail” appeared at the annual exhibition in the National Academy. Within a few years he was recognized as the foremost western illustrator, short story author (Roosevelt preferred him to Owen Wister and Bret Harte) and sculptor of his day. Yet he continued to roam each summer for the increasingly elusive characters of the Old West. Fascinated with and befriended by the Indians, Remington anticipated the last rebellion by the Sioux. Narrowly escaping death in combat in the Badlands, he rushed to the East to document the events for Harper’s Weekly. Remington is unique for his “caught-in-action” style, a legacy of his lack in formal training and its stifling pedagogy–which he could never tolerate. He died in 1909 after surgery for appendicitis, his career at apogee, some 48 well-lived years of age.
There are essentially three types of original antique prints by Remington (there are lots of modern reproductions): magazine and newspaper illustrations, halftone prints sold separately or in portfolios, and original chromolithographs. These prints were all done for commercial purposes; that is, they were created with the intent to be used as illustrations in books or magazines, or for sale to the public to purchase to hang in their homes. They were issued in large numbers, though through attrition the antique Remington prints can be quite scarce.
Newspaper & Magazine Illustrations
The first commercial print after Remington was “Cow Boys of Arizona, Roused by a Scout,” issued in the February 25, 1882 issue of Harper’s Weekly (Remington had two illustrations published previously in college publications). The story is that Remington sent his sketch drawn on wrapping paper to the editors of Harper’s just to see if he could sell his work to the paper. They liked the image, but it was so crude that it had to be redrawn by staff artist W.A. Rogers.
In the next years, Remington sold a few more sketches to this illustrated newspaper, but he got his big break in 1886 when he was commissioned by Harper’s Weekly as an artist-correspondent to cover the U.S. government’s campaign against Geronimo. He never was able to catch up with Geronimo himself, so Remington focused more on “Soldiering in the Southwest,” taking many photographs and making sketches, which upon his return east he turned into illustrations for Harper’s and the magazine Outing. This was the beginning of a very successful career as an illustrator, with Remington providing art work for these and other publications, as well as providing images for books and art portfolios.
Between 1882 and 1913 Remington’s drawings and paintings appeared as original illustrations in seventeen publications. Initially, they were done as wood-engraving, but in the 1890s the publications started to use photomechanical screened halftones instead, so the later Remington illustrations tend to be made by this process. In the early twentieth century Collier’s Weekly and other publications started to reproduce his work as color halftones.
Collier’s thought so highly of Remington’s work (one assume not only a commercial viewpoint, but also artistically), that in 1905 they began to issue color halftones after his paintings in portfolios and as separate prints. These were done in a number of sizes, over a number of years, and with different levels of quality. Interestingly, the early prints were called “Artists Proofs” by Collier’s. Traditionally, this term meant a print was pulled before publication, so the artist could inspect it, but Collier’s was simply using this terms as a selling tool. Collier’s also issued a number of Remington halftone images as separate prints for framing, again in different sizes.
The rarest and best quality prints by Remington are chromolithographs. These are images which were printed from multiple lithographic stones, one per color. The first of these were two prints, “Antelope Hunting” and “Goose Shooting,” issued in 1889 in a portfolio entitled Sport: or Shooting and Fishing. This portfolio included fifteen chromolithographs after important American sporting artists of the day, such as A.B. Frost, Frederic S. Cozzens, Frank H. Taylor and R.F. Zogbaum. For Remington to be included in this august group was evidence of his increasing fame.
Just over a decade later, in 1901, a portfolio was issued by R.H. Russell of New York containing eight lithographs based solely on Remington’s work. This set, A Bunch of Buckskins, included folio sized chromolithographs, four of ‘rough riders” and four of Native Americans. A year later, Charles Scribner’s Sons reissued four prints, which had appeared previously in Scribner’s Magazine, as chromolithographs in a portfolio entitled Western Types.
The last chromolithograph after Remington was a separate print issued in 1908 of “The Last of His Race.” This print is an “oleograph,” which essentially is an elaborate chromolithograph printed using oil based inks on canvas and varnished so as to resemble an oil painting.