Frederic Remington, an artist renowned for capturing the Old West, confronted struggles in his career, a noted authority on the late-19th century painter said Saturday.
“One of the things that Remington had to overcome all his life was that he started off as an illustrator,” Peter Hassrick, editor of the book “Frederic Remington: A Catalogue Raisonne II,” said during a Saturday afternoon talk at the Billings Public Library. “He dreamed of becoming a fine art painter.”
Hassrick was one of a number of authors featured in panels during the annual four-day High Plains BookFest in Billings. His book also was a winner at the High Plains Book Awards, all who were announced at a banquet Saturday night.
Hassrick, director emeritus and senior scholar at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, used a slide show as he talked to an audience of 35 people about Remington’s life. Remington completed 3,000 paintings in his lifetime, as well as bronze sculptures and sketches.
He also was a writer, penning 107 short stories that were published in noted magazines of the day and seven books, one which was made into a Broadway show.
“This was a guy who was somewhat ambitious,” Hassrick said.
Remington did all of that, despite the fact that he died at age 48 in 1909 of peritonitis from a burst appendix. He was at the absolute height of his creative genius when he died, Hassrick said.
The artist was a blend of an impressionistic painter, especially later in his career, and a narrative storyteller painter. The two sides to Remington “were almost disparate in terms of American artistic tradition,” Hassrick told his audience.
In his mid-20s, Remington decided to use his talents as an illustrator, and he managed to establish his career pretty quickly. By 1886, one of his illustrations ended up on the cover of Harper’s Weekly, which Hassrick compared to Time Magazine today.
Remington used the same composition for that illustration, which depicted a scout in the Geronimo Wars in Arizona, as he did in a painting he’d done in art school of the Civil War. At the behest of a friend, he adapted the illustration into a painting.
“When he was illustrating a lot of times he would take photographs and adapt them into paintings that were published in magazines,” Hassrick said.
Interestingly, Remington often featured the African American or Hispanic cowboys he saw and sketched during his travels. But he would transform his subjects into Anglos in his paintings, Hassrick said, because that was what buyers wanted.
By 1889, Remington was exhibiting paintings in the National Academy of Design in New York, which was the leading arbiter of American art of that day. He desperately wanted to become a formal academician, to be recognized by the academy for his works.
Ten years later, exhibiting his latest painting, he was once again not given the recognition he desired. And Remington never exhibited at the academy again.
One of the last paintings that Remington completed was titled “The War Bridle.” It’s featured on the cover of “A Catalogue Raisonne II.”
One of Remington’s neighbors in Connecticut, H. Barton Hepburn, had been to Wyoming and hunted with two men, brothers, in the Wind River Mountains. Hepburn had captured the brothers in a photograph as they saddled a horse and he asked Remington to adapt the photo into a painting.
“How does an impressionistic painter paint from a photograph?” Hassrick asked.
The artist had been to Cody the year before where he painted and sketched the mountains and light and shadow, and he knew what the buildings looked like. Remington was able to blend the photograph with his previous work to create a painting that Hepburn loved.
“All 3,000 paintings have a story like this,” Hassrick said.