Charles Marion Russell (1864 – 1926) is known to many art lovers as the “Cowboy painter” . He is called that because of his many paintings of cowboys of the American West in the late 1800s and American Indians of the same period. However, he has always been seen by most art critics as someone who could portray the period accurately.
Art critics and art historians agreed in the past, and most modern art critics nowadays still agree, that Russell’s works are more authentic than most other painters of the American West because he lived and worked there for years.
This article will examine what art critics have said over the years about Charles Russell. But to assist you in understanding his works better, we’ll first briefly look at the biography and career of the artist Charles Marion Russell to find out why he is seen as an expert when it comes to the sophisticated traditions and old customs of American Indians and the life of the early Western American cowboys.
About Charles Marion Russell
Charles Russell artist from America was born in Missouri. From a very young age, he was intrigued by the American West. So he searched for information about the American West, the cowboys, and American Indians.
Because of his interest in the lifestyle of people residing in the American West, he left his home when he was only 16 years of age to go to the American West. He started to work in the Judith Basin area of Montana as a cowpuncher.
When he became a “full-time” cowboy in Montana, he really experienced the way the cowboys lived. And apart from becoming a cowboy in Montana, the Western artist Charles Russell’s career also included a long stay with the American Indians. He resided for many years with American Indians. Forty-six of his sixty-two years, he lived and worked in the American West.
In 1896, Russell met and married his wife Nancy, and in 1897, they moved to Great Falls, where they spent the rest of their lives. Nancy was a person with a business mind and set up exhibitions of Russell’s work. She made him famous in the United States, Canada, and London because she was determined to establish him as a painter and not just an illustrator. When Charles Russell’s artist died in 1926, all the children in Great Falls were released from school on the day of his funeral, and they watched the funeral procession.
Art Critics and Charles Russell Paintings in General
The Western artist Charles Russell was one of the few artists in the late 1800s and early 1900s who received positive reviews from critics during their lifetimes. Even today, very few art critics give negative reviews of Russell’s paintings.
The art critics in his time appreciated that he didn’t picture the stereotyped cowboys and “bad” American Indians as was the custom of “never-heard-of” amateur painters during that time. But, of course, many of those painters had actually never been in the American West!
Because of his life as a cowboy and his intimate knowledge of the American Indian culture and customs, Russell was, according to the art critics, able to depict the period accurately and with insight. And today, art critics know that he was always creating sketches, drawings, and paintings of the environment and people around him. Then to later depict the situation as realistically as possible.
Art Critics and the List of Charles Russell Paintings of Cowboys
According to the art critics, Russell’s cowboy paintings are not depicting the subjects in a way he thought a cowboy would have reacted in the circumstances. Usually, he created a picture of how he experienced such an event himself or depicted an event he had witnessed.
Art critics agree that only someone who has actually been a cowboy himself could see the humor in everyday situations in a cowboy’s life. This could not have been done by “cowboy painters” who didn’t experience cowboy life.
A good example of this is Russell’s painting “Meat’s Not Meat Till It’s in the Pan” . Critics said in their reviews that he depicted a typical cowboy dilemma. “Meat’s Not Meat Till It’s in the Pan” depicts a cowboy who has shot his prey and is now considering how to retrieve his meal-to-be from the outcropping where it has fallen. Russell added extra humor to the painting by making it a winter scene.
Art critics regard the theme of this painting as an indication of Russell’s intimate insight into cowboy life.
Art Critics and Russell’s American Indian Paintings
Art critics who have analyzed Charles Russell’s paintings where American Indians are the subjects agree in their reviews that they always reflect an intimate knowledge of his subjects. He had this intimate knowledge because he was an adopted brother of the Blackfoot tribe and lived with them for years.
According to reviews about his works of art, all his oil paintings, watercolors, and bronze sculptures reflect an intimate knowledge of his subjects, whether they were cowboys, American Indians, horses, or wild animals.
Art critics almost always also mention that his paintings of American Indian people or aspects of their lives depict the sophisticated American Indian culture of that time.
A good example of such a painting with an American Indian warrior as the subject is his beautiful painting “Mandane Warrior” . Russell painted this watercolor in 1906, depicting a warrior of the Mandan tribe. Art critics analyzing the painting agree that it is an excellent depiction of a Mandan warrior and his horse in full war regalia, including the plumes of many different birds, deerskin, and red and blue war paint. In addition, art critics believe this painting is an excellent example of how Russell understood the traditions and customs of the American Indian people.
For all art lovers who are enthusiastic about cowboy paintings and paintings about American Indians in the 1800s, it is worthwhile to get a list of Charles Russell paintings and search online for art critic reviews of the works. By reading the different reviews, you’ll understand the value of Russell’s paintings as a true reflection of cowboy life and American Indian customs of that time.