DescriptionNewell Convers Wyeth (American, 1882-1945)
"Mr. Cassidy ... Saw a crimson rider sweep down upon him ... Heralded by a blazing .41," Bar-20 Range Yards, Part VII - Cassidy at Cactus, The Outing Magazine interior illustration, December 1906
Oil on canvas
38 x 25 inches (96.5 x 63.5 cm)
Signed and dated lower right: N.C. Wyeth / 06
PROPERTY FROM THE SORDONI COLLECTION
Sotheby's, New York, May 31, 1984, lot 139;
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
American Illustrators Gallery, New York, and elsewhere, "The Great American Illustrators," 1993;
Sordoni Art Gallery, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, "Selections from the Sordoni Collection: American Illustration & Comic Art," April 7-May 20, 2018.
C.E. Mulford, "Bar-20 Range Yarns, Part VII--Cassidy at Cactus," The Outing Magazine, New York, December 1906, p. 337, illustrated;
C.E. Mulford, Bar-20: Being a Record of Certain Happenings that Occurred in the Otherwise Peaceful Lives of One Hopalong Cassidy and his Companions on the Range, New York, 1907, p. 256, illustrated;
D. Allen and D. Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth, The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 268, illustrated;
Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, Spur, Los Angeles, California, July-August 1991, illustrated as the cover;
American Illustrators Gallery, The Great American Illustrators, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1993, pp. 32, 125, no. 11, illustrated;
C. Podmaniczky, N.C. Wyeth: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume II, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 2008, p. 148, no. I.148, illustrated;
J.E. Dell and W. Reed, Visions of Adventure: N.C. Wyeth and the Brandywine Artists, New York, 2015, illustrated as the cover;
J.G. Cutler and L.S. Cutler, Howard Pyle: His Students & the Golden Age of American Illustration, Newport, Rhode Island, 2017, p. 202, illustrated;
S.I. Grand, Selections from the Sordoni Collection: American Illustration & Comic Art, exhibition catalogue, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 2018, pp. 90-91, 163, no. 41, 82, illustrated.
A new type of Western hero, and indeed the emergence of a new literary genre, appeared shortly after the turn of the century in Owen Wister's The Virginian (1902). The popularity of this novel encouraged others to follow in its hoof prints including Clarence Mulford who recounted the adventures of the Bar-20 Ranch cowboys, including Hopalong Cassidy. Hoppy and his comrades first appeared in a series of stories in Outing Magazine beginning in 1905, with illustrations by N.C. Wyeth and Frank E. Schoonover. In these early stories, the cowhands portrayed by the author and artists are not gentlemen like the later incarnations. Their outfits are tattered, often the result of direct hits during various gunfights. They are pugnacious, quick to anger, foul-mouthed (often indicated discretely by ellipses in the text), hard drinking workingmen. Questioning a man's word, calling him untruthful, is sufficient cause for gunplay. Rustlers too deserved to be shot on sight. Like all cowboys, they hate fences and bemoan the privatization of the open range. These are men used to driving vast herds from Texas to Abilene, Kansas unfettered and then squandering their wages in saloons, poker games, and brothels. Theirs is a male-oriented world; home is the bunkhouse. Mulford's stories ring true because he was a stickler for detail. He was a careful researcher and sought authenticity both in terms of the dialogue and descriptions of cowboy life. Equally attentive to detail and verisimilitude were his early illustrators Schoonover and Wyeth, both of whom had studied under Howard Pyle, the "father of American illustration," who insisted that period costumes be accurately rendered.
Mulford's stories were very popular evoking, as they did, a vanished world for a new generation of Americans who increasingly earned their living in offices and cities. Indeed, a widespread concern at the time was the feminization of the American male, a denizen of the fast-rising tall buildings where office drones slaved away. The fictional reconstruction of the old West was one response to the closing of the frontier.
Andrew Sordoni has long been fascinated with the game-legged cowboy-the result of a gunshot wound-and is a recognized authority on Hoppy. When the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York City held a program on "Hopalong Cassidy: King of the Licensed Cowboys" (March 27, 1995) in conjunction with an exhibition of memorabilia, Sordoni along with Mrs. William Boyd, widow of the movie and television Cassidy, was a featured speaker.
Beginning in the 1930s, William Boyd went on to star in over 60 Hopalong movies, many of which retain true artistic merit especially those shot by Russell Harlan in California. Reincarnated as a wholesome Hollywood cowboy, Hopalong foreswore alcohol, tobacco, foul language, and instead came to represent the ideals of justice, loyalty, civility, and the American way. The new Hopalong would never initiate a fight, but was not averse to finishing one. Dressed in all black-an exception to the rule that only villains wore black hats-and with a distinctive longhorn bandana clasp, Hoppy and his sidekicks, usually one old and grizzled and the other young, epitomized rough justice in the lawless West. By the mid-1940s, however, it appeared that Hoppy's long trek on his white horse Topper had come to trail's end when producer Harry Sherman decided to ax the character. Boyd disagreed and in a most audacious, and ultimately brilliant move, mortgaged everything he owned to buy all the films from Sherman and exclusive rights to the character from Mulford.
As had happened with magazines in the 19th century, obtaining content (programming) was an immediate concern in the post-WWII years, as television became a staple in American homes; Boyd possessed an inventory that could be easily adapted to the new medium. Hopalong Cassidy debuted on June 24, 1949, as the first television Western series and quickly became a hit for NBC. National magazines including Time, Look, and Life all featured Hoppy on their covers. Not only was Hopalong Cassidy among the most watched television programs, but also its success and popularity encouraged a marketing mania of branded items from boots to school lunch boxes. In 1950 alone, for example, Hoppy licensed merchandise was valued at 70 million dollars.
Hopalong Cassidy is an unparalleled example of the domestication and commercialization of a fictive Western protagonist. His creator Clarence Mulford, with his penchant for accuracy, once lamented: "Imagine, Hoppy wearing clothes like those Bill Boyd wears...Why, it's absolute nonsense. If Hoppy ever showed up in a saloon in duds like that they'd shoot him down on sight."* Nonetheless, in his golden dust, rode other cowboy heroes including Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and indeed a whole genre of television Westerns such as Bonanza, Gunsmoke, or the darker Have Gun-Will Travel. The Sordoni Collection artwork in this exhibition uniquely chronicles the evolution of Mulford's cowpunchers from their first appearances by Wyeth and Schoonover in Outing Magazine, to Maynard Dixon's interpretation in 1911, followed by George Gross and John Walter Scott who provided pulp covers in the mid-1930s, and ending with Dan Spiegel's comic strips in the 1950s (Cats. 82, 67,68, 17, 28,130).
The longevity and development of the main protagonist, Hopalong Cassidy, reflects the evolving role of the West in the American imagination during the first half of the 20th century. In retrospect the 1950s television boon in Westerns is their last, dusty hurrah. The Depression and WWII had begun to set the nation on a new course. By 1960 it was time, as President John F. Kennedy said, to explore a new frontier (Bernard A. Drew. Hopalong Cassidy: The Clarence E. Mulford Story. Metuchen, New Jersey, 1991, p. ix).
We would like to thank Stanley I. Grand for granting permission to reproduce this essay from Selections from the Sordoni Collection.
Framed Dimensions 41.25 X 31 Inches
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