Frederic Remington. “A Russian Cossack.” From American Illustrators. New York: Charles Scribner, 1892. 10 1/2 x 8 3/4. Color collotype. Trimmed to image and mounted onto board as originally issued.
Nowhere is the American West to be found more completely illustrated than in the works of Frederic Remington. Born in upstate New York on October 1, 1861, by age 19, he had distinguished himself as a football player and pugilist at Yale. Leaving Yale and the East 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; his painting, “The Courier’s Nap on the Trail” appeared at the annual exhibition at 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 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 its apogee, some 48 well-lived years of age.