THE HORSE IN TIME

The largest Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton ex­hi­bi­tion ever opened in the South is now on view at the Booth Mu­seum in Ge­or­gia.

Western Art Collector - - RCENTLY ACQUIRED - By James D. Balestri­eri

Fa­mously, Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton’s epi­taph reads, “He Knew the Horse.” That epi­taph pro­vides us with a pow­er­ful clue to Rem­ing­ton the man and Rem­ing­ton the artist. Think about it. For Rem­ing­ton the man, life—real life—was lived in the sad­dle, on horse­back; for Rem­ing­ton the artist, art—all his art, at any rate—be­gins with the horse. You see this ev­ery­where in his art, from wash draw­ings to oil paint­ings to bronzes, this feel­ing that the horse, in Rem­ing­ton’s mind, is what con­nects na­tive to pi­o­neer, cow­boy to va­quero, Buf­falo Soldier to Dog Soldier. Trea­sures from the Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton Art Mu­seum & Be­yond, the new ex­hi­bi­tion at the Booth Western Art Mu­seum, re­veals the horse as the cat­a­lyst that gives rise to Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton’s Amer­i­can West.

In el­e­vat­ing the horse, Rem­ing­ton casts his lot with some of the great equine art in his­tory, with Uc­cello, Géri­cault, Delacroix and oth­ers, and in­vests the Amer­i­can West with the del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween the wild and the tame that not only char­ac­ter­izes hu­man­ity’s re­la­tion­ship with the horse, but also typ­i­fies what was seen at the time as a bat­tle in the West be­tween sav­agery and civ­i­liza­tion, a bat­tle Rem­ing­ton grew in­creas­ingly am­biva­lent about as he lamented the pass­ing of the Old West and won­dered whether civ­i­liza­tion wasn’t sav­agery of a dif­fer­ent—per­haps even more sav­age—or­der. With this idea in mind, con­sider Booth Mu­seum di­rec­tor Seth Hop­kins’ state­ment that the in­ten­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion is “to present Rem­ing­ton, the most im­por­tant Western artist, as a multi-me­dia artist who achieved mas­tery in ev­ery medium he worked in,” mov­ing be­yond the fa­mil­iar il­lus­tra­tions and bronzes to em­brace the to­tal­ity of his out­put, in­clud­ing his mas­ter­ful easel paint­ings, wash draw­ings and lith­o­graphs.

Rem­ing­ton, Hop­kins as­serts, “has been gain­ing trac­tion within the larger scope of Amer­i­can art for the past two to five years.” The Color of Night ex­hi­bi­tion in 2003, which show­cased the artist’s late paint­ings, noc­turnes in a style en­tirely dif­fer­ent from any­thing he had ever done, and demon­strated the artist’s move­ment “to­ward im­pres­sion­ism,” as Hop­kins says, “to­ward his de­sire to be known as a fine artist.”

With his death at the age of 48 in 1909, Rem­ing­ton’s ma­ture works came to a swift end. “What would he have be­come had he lived?” asks Hop­kins. “That’s the mil­lion­dol­lar ques­tion.”

But to get to that ques­tion, you have to get there, so to speak.

By 1893, Rem­ing­ton was al­ready fa­mous. He had il­lus­trated fu­ture Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt’s Ranch Life and the Hunt­ing Trail, was Harper’s go-to guy for Western scenes, and had taken an early cue from and made anatom­i­cal cor­rec­tions to his horses be­cause of Ead­weard Muy­bridge’s ground­break­ing pho­to­graphic and zooprax­is­cope study, The Horse in Mo­tion. But the West was rapidly chang­ing: the fence, the rail­road, the van­ish­ing of the buf­falo and the end of the In­dian Wars were com­bin­ing to sub­di­vide, mech­a­nize, ur­ban­ize and tame the vast­ness that Rem­ing­ton’s horses of the mind

tra­versed. So the artist went south, to Mex­ico, to the giant Bav­i­cora Ranch, where he wit­nessed and lived in and among the va­que­ros in a thriv­ing cow­boy cul­ture that led to some of his great­est wash draw­ings and lith­o­graphs, in­clud­ing Mount­ing a Wild One. These, in turn, led to his first es­say in bronze in 1895, The Bron­cho Buster (Bron­cho would lose that h over the years). Rem­ing­ton al­ways claimed that he got his start in paint, but that he would live on in bronze.

From the col­lec­tor and en­thu­si­ast’s point of view, the Booth ex­hi­bi­tion will have a rar­ity on hand: three Bronco Busters (the h hav­ing van­ished), one an early sand cast from the Henry-bon­nard Foundry, a sec­ond lost-wax cast from the Ro­man Bronze Works, and one of the spu­ri­ous (read “fake”) casts that un­for­tu­nately abound on the mar­ket. Com­par­ing orig­i­nal bronzes cast in very dif­fer­ent ways in Rem­ing­ton’s two New York and then com­par­ing their points with points against a fake which may be both skill­ful and crude should be in­struc­tive.

When Wil­liam Ran­dolph Hearst sent Rem­ing­ton to Cuba to re­port on and il­lus­trate the Span­ish-amer­i­can War, guer­rilla war­fare and the com­plex pol­i­tics of the is­land de­stroyed his no­ble no­tions of war and of the des­tiny of

An­glo-saxon Amer­ica. The no­bil­ity of the cause was muddy, and there were no gal­lant cavalry en­gage­ments. The ex­pe­ri­ence of bat­tle sick­ened Rem­ing­ton and changed him for­ever. Rem­ing­ton, hav­ing been fired by Hearst for not pro­vid­ing enough bloody hero­ics, turned to paint­ing his­tory, to paint­ing the lives and suf­fer­ings of or­di­nary sol­diers, and to doc­u­ment­ing the pass­ing of tra­di­tional In­dian life. His work be­comes some­what sen­ti­men­tal and nos­tal­gic for a brawnier West. At the same time, he’s see­ing his con­tem­po­raries, Whistler in par­tic­u­lar, push­ing paint­ing out into im­pres­sion­is­tic di­rec­tions. He rails against this, but you see it creep­ing into his com­po­si­tions, as his strokes widen, his shapes soften, and light and neg­a­tive space be­come more im­por­tant to him.

Night, the Western night, be­comes Rem­ing­ton’s sub­ject. Night makes ghosts of the cow­boy and the In­dian, swad­dling them in

lost, past time.

A year be­fore his death, in 1908, in his back­yard in New Rochelle, New York, Rem­ing­ton throws a pile of paint­ings onto a fire. Not enough, in my mind, has been made of this mo­ment, this bon­fire of the van­i­ties, and its mean­ing as an ut­ter re­jec­tion of his own past and former self.

A year later, Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton would be dead.

What would Rem­ing­ton have be­come? What would he have made of the in­fa­mous Ar­mory Show of 1913? What would he have made of Braque and Pi­casso? Of Kandin­sky and Duchamp and so many oth­ers whose works jolted Amer­i­can taste? How would Rem­ing­ton’s Western world, his world of the horse, have fared as modernism be­gan to as­sert it­self against an im­pres­sion­ism that the artist was only just be­gin­ning to come to terms with?

Jen­nifer Hen­ne­man, cu­ra­tor at the Den­ver Art Mu­seum, has ar­gued lately, not with­out per­sua­sion, that we should see Rem­ing­ton as a mod­ernist. Alexan­der Ne­merov, in his book, Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton and Turn-of-the­cen­tury Amer­ica, has ar­gued, not with­out per­sua­sion, that Rem­ing­ton’s modernism, his dark­ness, is a re­ac­tion against moder­nity, against a night made day by elec­tric­ity.

My take? Had he lived to see the end of the horse cul­ture in the West, the mow­ing down of horses in the trenches of World War I and their re­place­ment by tanks, and the swift re­place­ment of horses in cities by au­to­mo­biles, maybe. He might have gone full mod­ernist, clos­ing in on moon­light off a Colt, the sheen on a palomino’s coat, or the bro­ken bar­bules on a war chief’s head­dress; they would all have been heart­break on can­vas.

In a former life, I ran the books and art depart­ment at Hol­land & Hol­land,

an old Bri­tish sport­ing arms com­pany’s out­post in New York. Through a col­league, I came into con­tact with Bri­gadier Gen­eral Fran­cis In­gall. I sold many copies of his mem­oir, The Last of the Ben­gal Lancers, in my depart­ment and be­cause of this, one Satur­day he called me from his home in Napa Val­ley, where he had re­tired. Over the course of this, and many sub­se­quent Satur­days, I lis­tened to all the de­tails of the Bri­gadier’s life that hadn’t made it into the book. Gen­eral In­gall had at­tended Sand­hurst with David Niven, the ac­tor. Posted to the North­west Fron­tier in In­dia, In­gall led the last mounted lancer charge against ban­dits in the Khy­ber Pass. As World War II loomed, one day In­gall’s en­tire reg­i­ment was sent out on foot. When they re­turned, their horse, in­clud­ing his beloved de­strier, Eager­hart, were gone, re­placed by tanks. One night, he bi­cy­cled to hear Gandhi and Nehru speak on in­de­pen­dence. He was, as he said, “the only white man, and cer­tainly the only white man in uni­form, in the place.” Gandhi and Nehru saw him, mar­veled at his pluck, and in­vited him onto the stage to take ques­tions. In­gall distin­guished him­self dur­ing the war, lead­ing a mixed force of Hin­dus, Sikhs and Mus­lims in Italy and was there at the din­ner when Lord Mount­bat­ten an­nounced the par­ti­tion of In­dia into In­dia and Pak­istan. In­gall rose and ob­jected, de­nounc­ing the idea and say­ing that Mount­bat­ten would be re­spon­si­ble for civil war and mil­lions of deaths. He was se­verely cen­sured—though his­tory soon proved him right. The out­line of In­gall’s life is read­ily avail­able on­line, but don’t bother think­ing about writ­ing the screen­play. I’m on it, and I have the notes from our con­ver­sa­tions that tell the in­side story.

The point of this last para­graph is that when you open In­gall’s mem­oir, it isn’t ded­i­cated to his wife, or to his only son, who died young. No, his book— and life—are ded­i­cated as fol­lows: “To my charger Eager­hart and all the brave cavalry horses.” Rem­ing­ton’s epi­taph; In­gall’s ded­i­ca­tion. Moder­nity? Gen­eral In­gall adapted. Even thrived. No doubt Rem­ing­ton would have as well. But the Gen­eral didn’t much care for a world where know­ing and lov­ing the horse counted for so lit­tle. Rem­ing­ton wouldn’t have cared for it at all.

Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton (1861-1909), Life in the Cat­tle Coun­try-driv­ing the “Round Up,” ca. 1901, oil on can­vas, 27 x 40”. Buf­falo Bill Cen­ter of the West, Cody, Wy­oming, USA. Mu­seum Pur­chase. 62.72.

Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton (1861-1909), Un­ti­tled (Red Cloud Buttes north of Fort Robin­son, Ne­braska). Oil on can­vas, 20⅛ x 38⅛”. Buf­falo Bill Cen­ter of the West, Cody, Wy­oming, USA. Gift of the Coe Foun­da­tion. 12.67.

Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton (1861-1909), The Cheyenne, 1901, Ro­man Bronze Works cast no. 79, 20 x 25 x 8”. Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton Art Mu­seum, Og­dens­burg, NY, Pub­lic Li­brary Col­lec­tion.

Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton (1861-1909), Caval­ry­man of the Line, Mex­ico, 1889, oil on can­vas, 24⅛ x 20”. Amon Carter Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Col­lec­tion, 1961.238.

Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton (1861-1909), Buf­falo Hunter Spit­ting a Bul­let into a Gun, 1892, wa­ter­color on pa­per, 28½ x 25”. Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton Art Mu­seum, Og­dens­burg, NY, Pub­lic Li­brary Col­lec­tion.

Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton (1861-1909), Prospec­tors Mak­ing Fry­ing-pan Bread, ca. 1893, oil on can­vas, 33½ x 46½”, Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton Art Mu­seum, Og­dens­burg, NY.

A Co­manche,

Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton (1861-1909), ca. 1889, wash with gouache on gray pa­per, 28 x 27”. Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton Art Mu­seum, Og­dens­burg, NY. Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton (1861-1909), The Bron­cho Buster, 1895, The Henry-bon­nard Bronze Com­pany castNo. 23, 24 x 20 x 11". Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton Art Mu­seum, Og­dens­burg, NY.

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