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Charles Marion Russell (American, 1864-1926)


Also known as:  Russell, Charles

Largely self-taught, Charles Russell is recognized as one of the primary artists who crafted the iconography of the American west. He not only depicted the contemporary west he witnessed, but he also depicted nostalgic images of the “west that has passed.” His works helped to cultivate the western myth and romanticized the icons of the American frontier: the cowboy, the buffalo, and the Indian. Through his paintings, Russell reveals an empathy for the plight of the Native American tribes which was extraordinarily progressive at the time, having previously not been a popular element of nineteenth century art.

Russell settled in the Montana territory in 1880, where he first worked for the Judith Roundup and then settled in as a night wrangler for the Niedringhaus Ranch. The famous N Bar N brand of the Niedringhaus family appears in several of his early paintings, such as the luminous watercolor Kickover of Morning Coffee Pot (1896). This allowed him to sketch during the day while learning the cowboy life at night. Unlike his contemporaries, Russell’s firsthand knowledge of a working ranch gave his paintings a level of detail that was historically accurate, earning him the nickname “The Cowboy Artist.” His body of work set the precedent for future generations of western artists.

Russell’s impressive natural artistic talent was enhanced by the business acumen of his manager/wife, Nancy. She oversaw all aspects of her husband’s career in an era where women typically only managed the household. It is Nancy who is credited by many scholars as being the driving force and guiding hand behind Russell’s successful career.

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