Little Visits with Great Americans

by Orison Swett Marden

Frederic Remington, The Artist of the Plains

Frederic Remington's drawings and paintings of ranch life are so full of action and so vigorously drawn that they have attracted attention all over the United States and abroad, wherever true art is honored. No living artist can equal Remington in bringing into life, as it were, on the very canvas, a bucking broncho, or the sweeping charge of a force of Uncle Sam's cavalry. One fairly sees the dust on the scorching alkali plains, and hears the quick clatter of the horse's hoofs as he strikes the ground, and gathers his legs again.

And yet, with all his success, Mr. Remington is most unassuming. I went to New Rochelle, where he has a cozy place on the crest of a hill. He was in his studio, which is an addition to the house; and, as I descended a few steps, he rose from before his easel to greet me. His working coat was covered with paint, and he held a brush in his left hand. He had not been warned of my mission, and seemed almost startled.

"I cannot shake hands," he said, looking at me, "mine are soiled ; I am a painter, you know."

He sat down, hanging one arm over the back of his chair.

"Don't write about me, but speak of my art!" said Mr. Remington.

"But you and your art are one," I rephed, looking around the studio, and to its walls hung with Indian relics. "Most of your pictures are from experiences of your own in the great far west, are they not ?"

"Yes, but not all," was the reminiscent reply.

"And those trophies?" I added, glancing at them.

"Oh, I bought most of them. That jacket I bought from a mounted policeman. Pretty, isn't it? I am able to depict the western country and life, because I have been there,"


"When did you first take up art?"

"I studied some art at the Yale Art School, and a little at the Art League. When I was a schoolboy, I was forever making sketches on the margin of my school-books, but I never really studied it much, although my dream was to be an artist. At nineteen, I caught the fever to go west, and incidentally to become rich. That was my idea; art came second. I ranched it, and got into Indian campaigns. I have always been fond of horses and out-of-door life, and I got plenty of it there, with every opportunity to study the rough life, the lay of the country, and the peculiar atmosphere."

"Mr. Remington," I asked, "how do you get that 'devil-may-care' look in the faces of your cowboys and soldiers ?"

His face lighted up, and a deep twinkle came into his eyes. He glanced across the room at just such a picture as I had described. He took his pipe out of his mouth and laid it on the window sill.


"Kipling says that, 'a single man in a barrack is not a plaster saint,' and that is about it. That cavalryman posed for me on his horse. But not all of my work is from life. I go west for three months every year, and gather a lot of sketches and then work them up. Those color sketches there, —a chief and his daughter, —are from life. You see I was able to get all the color. Yet I like to depict white men best; they are more interesting."

My eyes rested on an unfinished picture, toward which, every now and then, Mr. Remington turned a thoughtful gaze as if trying to think of something. It was a birch-bark canoe, with a figure at either end; the water was smooth, and the shore was wooded. One person in the motionless canoe was fishing.

"Is that from memory?" I asked of the artist.

"Partly," he said, with a smile. "I used to see a good many photographs of trout fishing in the Adirondacks; lines taut, and then hurling a trout through the air, to land it in the canoe. So once I thought I would try it myself. I went up there and fished for two weeks in the rain, I am trying to think how to make the rain appear to strike and bounce from the water. You know how water looks when it is raining," —and there came into his face a thoughtful and studious look, showing how carefully he weighed every detail of his work.

Mr. Remington rises early, has breakfast at seven, and works until three, when he takes his customary horseback ride across the country.

"Do you work from inspiration ?" I asked.

"I do not know what you mean, exactly. I must have a study in my mind, and then I work it out. Some mornings I can do but little ; but I am kept exceedingly busy with constant orders to fill, besides illustrating my own articles."


"That painting of the charge of the Rough Riders up San Juan hill, and your other Cuban pictures, must have been interesting work."

"I saw Roosevelt just before but not during the charge. But when you see one, you see all. The fighting today is done in long, thin lines; the solid formations are no longer used. It makes too great a target. You are never out of range, for the bullets carry a mile and a half. Most of the fighting is done lying down, the front line advancing, and the others harassing the enemy. To me there was nothing enjoyable about it. A correspondent is worse off than the soldier. He has no means of transportation. Fortunately, in Cuba, I secured a horse the day before the battle. I made a great number of sketches, but lost one of my sketch books while crawling on my hands and knees through the long grass. It contained many bits of action, which I wanted. I suppose it was spoiled, or maybe someone found it. But in my younger days, I actually enjoyed being in the midst of an Indian fight. The climate is so different, and entirely to my liking, out west."

We rose and viewed the studio.

"How do you get that peculiar alkali, yellowish air of the plains ?" I asked, as we stood before an example of Mr. Remington's art.

"Only by having lived there, and after a dint of study. That is a dust study."

"And those blue shadows are correct ?"


"Yes; you cannot have a black shade out in the open, and the atmosphere there causes that particular shade. That one above, though, which is also a study, shows an almost steel gray shadow, while that other one is still darker. These are 'color notes,' of Indian ponies, and bronchos. There is no crest or arch to their necks. They are really degenerated horses, but they can go."

On a pedestal was a casting of the "Broncho Buster."

"You must have modeled in clay before you did that."

"No, that was my first attempt. I had never put my hands to clay before. Painting and modeUng are about the same. You must know anatomy in both. I never intended to have it cast, but some of my friends, on seeing it, said I should, so I had it done. 'Bunkie,' which means, in the army, 'comrade,' is my second work."

It was only in 1885 that Mr. Remington turned his whole attention to art. On leaving Yale, where he was more devoted to football than to study, he served for a brief period as confidential clerk to Governor Cornell, at Albany. But that life was too prosaic; and, in 1880, he caught the fever, "to go west." He went to Montana, and became a "cow-puncher." Later, he made money on a Kansas mule ranch, and was cowboy, guide and scout in the southwest. When he had run through what he had earned, he returned to Kansas City, where the shops displayed his first work. They possessed the now well-known Remington style, but the colors were daubed on so that they looked like chromos, although the drawings had that muscular dash and action for which his work is noted.


"My first drawing," said Mr. Remington, "appeared in Harper's. It was redrawn by them, but it had in it that which they liked."

In the meantime he had married, and he started east with his wife. They arrived in New York with just three dollars. After engaging a small room, he made a bee-line for Harper's with a number of sketches. They were accepted on the spot, and since then there has been no more successful illustrator than Frederic Remington among the celebrated artists of America.

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