For many artists, the last few years of their lives are when they create some of their greatest masterpieces. At this stage of their career, they have matured as an artist, and the themes within their artwork have fully developed.
But, as many people know, death is not always the end for an artist; sometimes, it is only the beginning. It is only after death that the impact and legacy of an artist’s work can be truly analyzed and appreciated.
Charles Marion Russell (1864 – 1926) was one such artist. He achieved substantial success as a painter and sculptor during his lifetime. However, it was only after his passing that his historical and artistic significance reached their full potential. The following is a look at the artist’s life, death, legacy, and some of his most iconic paintings.
The Life Of A Cowboy Artist
Both art and cowboys were a big part of Charles Russell’s life growing up. From a very young age, he was obsessed with cowboys and spent countless hours reading stories about their adventures and drawing sketches and pictures to match them.
When he came of age, he left home and worked as a rancher. Over the next few years, he worked several cowboy-related jobs, all while painting on the side as a hobby after the long days working on the ranch.
Not long after, this hobby developed into a feasible career path as Russell regularly received commissions to paint new work. The painting Waiting For A Chinook is his best-loved painting from this period. It depicts the snowy scene of a lone cattle surrounded by a pack of wolves.
Living With The Locals
After his time working on the ranches of Montana, Charles Marion Russell went to live with a Native American tribe known as the Blood Indians. During this time, he learned about their culture and unique way of life, dedicating many paintings to both aspects.
This intimate knowledge and undisturbed time living with the Native lent itself greatly to the development of Russell’s craft. It also makes him one of the foremost historical Native American painters and the most accurate interpreters of the indigenous culture.
Charles Russell’s paintings of the Native Americans are some of the best ever created. They showcase many unappreciated aspects of their culture. The list of paintings is quite extensive, but some worth checking out are The Scouts, Burning Crow Buffalo Range, Waiting and Mad, The Death Song Of Lone Wolf, and Indian Women Moving, to name just a few.
The Legend Of Lewis And Clark
Another avenue that American painters such as Charles Russell and others of the time are so acclaimed for is the historical relevance of the artwork. In Russell’s case, he was particularly fascinated with the Legend of Lewis and Clark and their iconic expedition across uncharted America.
For those of you not familiar with the story, Lewis and Clark were two explorers hired to explore and map the northwestern regions of America. Their heroic exploits and gripping tales are one of the most well-known in American history.
Even though Russell’s collection of paintings from the expedition was commissioned more than 100 years after the expedition, they remain one of the greatest historical sources on the subject. Some paintings worth looking at are- Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia and Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians.
Painting The West
When talking about Western artist Charles Russell’s career, his contributions toward immortalizing everyday life in the wild west cannot be praised enough. This includes his work depicting historical events, cowboy living, and authentic representations of Native American culture.
Much of his art involving cowboys are exhilarating action set pieces that inspired many of the cowboy movies that followed. They aggrandize and exaggerate the most exciting parts of life in the west, such as intense gun fights, chaotic chases on horseback, and the iconic image of a cowboy lassoing an animal.
Thanks to the talent of Charles Marion Russell, these images of the wild west are now famous worldwide. Like all great art, they depict a unique moment in time and transcend that moment into something timeless that lasts forever.
The Legacy Left Behind
By the time Charles Russell died, he had produced over 4,000 works of art. These included an impressive collection of oil and watercolor paintings, sketches, drawings, and sculptures. This large body of work is a remarkable achievement by any measure.
Although historians have fully agreed upon the cause of his death, nevertheless, the artwork he created during his life is rightfully the main focus of his legacy. Unlike many artists whose lives and legacies are controversial, Charles Russell’s legacy is all about his art.
His incredibly moving paintings inspired an entire nation of painters and writers. Musicians have named songs after the titles of his paintings. He has had schools, museums, and wildlife parks named after him. He has been inducted into several halls of fame, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest and most important American painters of all time.
Charles Marion Russell was an artist who loved his occupation and lived what he painted. His paintings are some of the very best of their kind. They are an incredible tribute to a historical period that was like no other. Thanks to Russell, this unique time in American history will never be forgotten and is still just as popular today as ever.