DescriptionCHARLES MARION RUSSELL (American, 1864-1926)
Kickover of Morning Coffee Pot, 1896
Watercolor on paper
19 x 28 inches (48.3 x 71.1 cm)
Signed and dated lower left: CM Russell / 1896 (with artist's cipher)
William F. Neidringhaus, St. Louis, Missouri;
Thence by descent to William Randolf Blount, his grandson, St. Louis, Missouri;
Thence by descent to Mrs. W.R. Blount, his wife, St. Louis, Missouri;
Hammer Galleries, New York, 1964;
C.M. Russell Auction, 1971, #H-1;
Private collection, Montana;
National Finals Art Auction, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1986;
Biltmore Galleries, Scottsdale, Arizona, 1986.
Antiques Magazine, December 1964, p. 675 as Kickover of Morning Coffee Pot (Hammer Galleries advertisement);
Ainsworth, The Cowboy in Art, 1968, p. 44;
Antiques Magazine, July 1969, p. 63 (Hammer Galleries advertisement);
Antiques Magazine, March 1970, p. 363 (Hammer Galleries advertisement);
C.M. Russell Auction catalogue, 1971, no. H-1;
National Finals Art Auction catalogue, 1986, cover;
Western Art Digest (vol 13:2), March-April, 1986, p. 7 as Kicking Over the Morning Coffee Pot
B. Price, editor, Charles M. Russell: A Catalogue Raisonné, Norman, Oklahoma, CR.UNL.317 (illus).
A cowboy with his back to us cinches a saddle on his blindfolded horse. Standing in the lower right corner, he had a unique perspective from which to observe this early morning battle between a seasoned cowhand and a spirited horse. The young cowboy was the outfit's night wrangler, and like the other men at a safe distance from the bucking horse, could view this moment as humorous rather than dangerous. For the rider, it was an entirely different story. Only the most skilled were able to avoid a nasty fall. Incidents like this were just part of life for a cowboy on the Montana range in the late 19th century.
The young night wrangler with his back to us was Charles M. Russell. No other artist was better at capturing the action, drama, and humor of a scene than the young cowboy depicted in this painting. When Russell painted this scene in 1896, his days as a cowboy were over. Three years earlier, he had finished his last cowboy job, accompanying a herd of cattle on the train from Montana to Chicago, where he visited the world's fair and saw a number of his paintings on display at the Montana pavilion. At the time, Russell was a budding artist who was as likely to trade his paintings and drawings for drinks at the local saloon as he was to sell them for cash.
On his return trip from Chicago he made a detour to his boyhood home in St. Louis and secured his first major commission, fifteen paintings for businessman and rancher William Neidringhaus. Coincidentally, this scene drawn from Russell's memories of his early days in Montana occurred on Neidringhaus's ranch long before Russell met his future patron. According to Russell scholar Fred Renner, it was that commission that allowed Russell to leave behind his night wrangler job and focus on his art full time.
In 1896, when Kickover of Morning Coffee Pot was completed, Russell was still very much in the process of learning his craft. This watercolor already showed the elements that would secure his place as a great artist of the American West. Over a century later, the painting retains an exuberant vitality that is as fresh today as it was in Russell's studio. The motif of the bucking bronco was one that Russell would return to with increasing skill throughout his career. Yet even in this early effort, he captures the action and energy of the scene with extraordinary skill.
At first glance, the painting may seem to have been dashed off quickly by an artist who was simply committing his memories to paper. However, it is Russell's ability to convey the many different elements of this scene in a manner that gives the viewer a sense of just having come upon the action that belies the careful planning and composition of the piece. Russell has used a triangular composition to control and guide the viewer's eye, with the bucking bronc at the top of the triangle, Russell himself at the right corner of the base and the bemused cowboy in the red kerchief anchoring the other base of the triangle. All of the essential action is contained within that triangular framework which Russell effectively harnesses to tell his story.
Russell excels as a storyteller by including authentic details that lend first person credibility to his paintings. Many of the visual stories that Russell tells were drawn from his own experience. He painted the men he knew and placed them in settings that had been part of his daily life. The scene here occurred on the Neidringhaus family's N Bar N ranch. In the background, one can pick out Square Butte, a Montana landmark that Russell frequently depicted. The chuck wagon in the scene was used on the ranch, the cowboys were Russell's working companions, and while this particular scene may have been pulled from Russell's imagination, it was the type of scene that he no doubt witnessed on many occasions.
In early paintings such as Kickover of Morning Coffee Pot, one can truly say that Charlie Russell lived the life he painted. As he matured as a painter and his career progressed, he would enlarge his range of subjects to include many stories from a much earlier time in the West when Plains Indian tribes roamed freely across the prairies in pursuit of buffalo. However, his early years as a young wrangler working for several cattle ranches, would always be an important source of artistic inspiration. Just in terms of numbers, he spent more years in his studio working as an artist than he did riding the plains as a cowboy. Never the less, his scenes of cowboy camps, bucking broncos, and the dangerous business of chasing down a wild steer are so vivid, immediate, and authentic that for many he will always be America's preeminent "Cowboy" artist.
More information about CHARLES MARION RUSSELL, also known as Russell, Charles Marion, Charles Marion Russell, Russell, Charles.
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