Remington, Frederic 1861-1909
(Full name Frederic Sackrider Remington) American artist, essayist, sculptor, novelist, and short story writer.
Remington is considered the premiere artist of the turn-ofthe-century American West. His works include thousands of esteemed paintings and drawings of Western life, as well as twenty-five bronze sculptures, including his best-known piece The Bronco-Buster. As a writer, Remington is noted for the essays he wrote to accompany his illustrations, his short story collections, and his principal novel John Ermine of the Yellowstone. In his works, both visual and narrative, Remington attempted to capture the ideals of the Old West and decried their rapid passing in the late nineteenth century. More successful as a visual artist than a writer, Remington began to explore the techniques of the European Impressionists late in life, and is considered one of the progenitors of Impressionism in North America.
Remington was born in Canton, New York on 4 October 1861. Though he would later adopt the Western United States as the subject of his art and writing, he maintained close ties to the Northeast throughout his life. Remington enrolled at the Yale University School of Fine Arts in 1878. After his father's death in 1880 he refused to return to Yale. Instead, in August of the following year, he traveled west to Montana where he recorded what he saw in sketches and prose. Remington sold his first illustration to Harper's Weekly in early 1882, and over the next several years published his drawings of Western scenes and short articles in various periodicals, including Century and Outing. In 1885 he took up sculpture while continuing with his literary and other artistic pursuits. Remington enrolled at the Art Student League of New York in 1886 and attended briefly. Meanwhile, his paintings, sculptures, and drawings had earned him great distinction as a popular artist. He illustrated Theodore Roosevelt's Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail along with several other works by well-known authors, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha and Francis Parkman's Oregon Trail. Remington's later work as an illustrator and war correspondent took him across America, to Cuba during the Spanish-American War, and to Europe and Asia. He published his first novel, John Ermine of the Yellowstone, in 1902. His second novel, The Way of an Indian, appeared in serialized form, but the work failed to achieve the same popular success as John Ermine. For the next three years Remington focused on painting. He died on December 26, 1909 at his home near Ridgefield, Connecticut.
In addition to his documentary-style paintings, illustrations, and bronze sculptures of scenes from the American West at the turn of the twentieth century, Remington produced a series of articles, short fiction, and novels that complement these works. His first collection of essays, illustrations, and stories, Pony Tracks records his early travels, notably his visits to northern Mexico and the desert Southwest. Remington's second collection, Crooked Trails, offers his assessments of compelling figures of the Old West, among them Texan Big-Foot Wallace, a professional hunter and Indian fighter. The eponymous hero of Remington's short story collection Sundown Leflare is a half-Indian and half-white drifter who remains alienated from both Native American and white culture. In these five dialect stories set on the high plains, Remington dramatizes his principal theme: the steady passing of the old Western way of life. Remington's novel John Ermine of the Yellowstone plays out a related theme: John Ermine, a white man raised by Crow Indians, falls in love with Katherine Searleses, a beautiful Easterner. The Way of an Indian, Remington's final work of fiction, recounts the story of White Otter, an alienated Cheyenne warrior who becomes tribal chief after surviving a series of violent encounters with white men and hostile Indians.
Overall, Remington's paintings and sculpture are more highly esteemed by critics than are his literary works. While his novel John Ermine of the Yellowstone was popular at the time of its first publication and went through several printings, it is now considered to be of minor consequence. Contemporary critics of his writing have tended to view Remington as a skilled local colorist, who faithfully evoked the rapidly passing age of the American West in his fiction and journalistic essays. His detractors, however, have observed that Remington's works are frequently marred by sentimentality, and even racism. Remington is also thought to have had a sizable influence on his friend, the writer Owen Wister, whose finest cowboy novel The Virginian was published only shortly before John Ermine. The Remington-Wister correspondence has also proven of interest to critics of the works of these two men who were instrumental in creating and promoting the myth of the Old West.
Pony Tracks (essays, illustrations, and short stories) 1895
Crooked Trails (essays, illustrations, and short stories) 1898
Sundown Leflare (short stories) 1899
John Ermine of the Yellowstone (novel) 1902
The Way of an Indian (novel) 1906
My Dear Wister: The Frederic Remington-Owen Wister Letters [edited by Ben Merchant Vorpahl] (letters) 1972
The Collected Writings of Frederic Remington [edited by Peggy and Harold Samuels] (essays, short stories, and novels) 1979
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SOURCE: "A Summary Introduction to Frederick Remington," in Prefaces, Little, Brown and Company, 1961, pp. 175-86.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1961, Dobie describes Remington's life and praises his writing and the power of his visual art.]
Frederic Remington worked for only about twenty-five years. During the half-century that has raced by since he died just past his forty-eighth birthday—still in the Horse Age—his fame as depictor of the Old West has not perceptibly diminished. Yet no adequate life of him has been published. The one considerable piece of writing on his life and work worthy of respect by people entitled to an opinion is the chapter "Remington in Kansas" (pages 194-211, plus a wealth of notes, pages 355-363) in Artists and Illustrators of the Old West, 1850-1900, by the late Robert Taft, of the University of Kansas, published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1953. The present essay owes far more to this noble work of vast knowledge, all ordered and evaluated, and of quiet power than to all other sources.
Frederic Remington, Artist of the Old West, by Harold McCracken, 1947, contains a useful bibliography of Remington's writings, books illustrated by him, appearances in periodicals, and his bronzes.
Remington's own writings—all illustrated—are the best sources for facts and understanding about him, but many...
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SOURCE: "When West Was Wister," in The New Republic, Vol. 167, No. 8, September 2, 1972, pp. 28-33.
[In the following review of My Dear Wister: The Frederic Remington-Owen Wister Letters, Seelye examines the relationship between these two artists and illuminates their views of the American West.]
When Huck Finn declared that he was going to light out for the Territory, he was speaking of the area beyond Arkansas and Missouri, the present states of Oklahoma and Kansas, as it existed in the 1840s. He was expressing the wanderlust of all Americans, for whom the westering urge had held, like the trade winds, for more than two centuries, but he was expressing in particular Mark Twain's own discontent with "civilization," the strictures and structure of the eastern establishment as opposed to the open, untrammeled spaces and freedom of the western territories. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is set in the 1840s, but it was written in the '70s and '80s, and the meaning of that final declaration gains a certain dimension thereby, for the frontier was fast closing in and closing down as well. And Mark Twain was not alone in his nostalgic reaction to the complexities of emerging Modern America. Even as it closed, the western frontier was sought by an avid trio which was to create the popular image of what the West was all about, a compound of cowboys, cavalry, and cussed Injuns: Owen Wister,...
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SOURCE: "Frederick Remington: The Artist as Local Colorist," in South Dakota Review, Vol. 12, No. 4, Winter, 1974-75, pp. 76-88.
[In the following essay, Erisman considers Remington's written works, seeing them primarily as examples of local color fiction that occasionally supersede this designation. ]
Frederic Remington (1861-1909), American painter and sculptor, needs no introduction; Frederic Remington, American author, is virtually unknown. No one having the sketchiest acquaintance with the American West can fail to recognize either a Remington bronze or a Remington oil. "The Bronco Buster," for example, or "Coming Through the Rye," with its four carousing cowboys, is as familiar as "The Fight for the Waterhole." "Dash for the Timber," or "A Cavalryman's Breakfast on the Plains." All are commonplaces. By contrast, the very titles of Remington's books are unfamiliar, and the number of persons who can claim a first-hand acquaintance with Sundown Leflare (1899),John Ermine of the Yellowstone (1902), or The Way of an Indian (1906) is infinitesimal.
That Remington's writings, fictional and non-fictional, are largely overshadowed by his paintings and sculptures is not surprising, but unfortunate. It is unfortunate because his fiction, and, to a lesser extent, his journalism. complements his pictorial vision of the West. In his writings, as in his pictorial works,...
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SOURCE: "How the Western Ends: Fenimore Cooper to Frederic Remington," in Western American Literature, Vol. XVII, No. 2, Summer, 1982, pp. 117-35.
[In the following essay, Bold analyzes Remington's Sundown Leflare, John Ermine of the Yellowstone, and The Way of an Indian as they build upon the narrative tradition of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales.]
Come back—do the 4 volume novel about a South Western Natty Bumpo [sic]—Believe me, I know.
Remington to Wister, Dec. 18991
When Frederic Remington gave that advice to his defecting colleague, he did not acknowledge that he had already produced his own version of the Leatherstocking Tales. During 1897 and 1898, he had been writing the five short stories about Sundown that were collected in 1899 as Sundown Leflare.2 That volume has a cyclical form and a central theme which are reminiscent of the Leatherstocking series' design. Its tone is different, however: the main figure remains more comical and grotesque than Natty; and the cycle is presented by a first-person narrator, a visiting eastern artist, who is always casual about the situation and its implications. Remington's fiction is not as obviously important as Fenimore Cooper's, but its similarities to the Leatherstocking Tales endow it...
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Allen, Douglas. Frederic Remington and the Spanish-American War. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1971, 178 p.
Biography of Remington that particularly focuses on his attraction to all things military.
Erisman, Fred. Frederic Remington. Idaho: Boise State University, 1975, 44 p.
Brief biography that includes a bibliography of books, stories, and articles by Remington as well as secondary sources on the artist.
Manley, Atwood and Margaret Manley Mangum. Frederic Remington and the North Country. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1988, 272 p.
Explores Remington's life and career within "the familial, geographical, and cultural context of upstate New York."
McCracken, Harold. Frederic Remington: Artist of the Old West. J. B. Lippincott Company, 1947, 157 p.
Biography of Remington as the exceptional artist of the American West.
Samuels, Peggy and Harold. Frederic Remington: A Biography. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1982, 537 p.
Comprehensive study of Remington's life and influence on North American art.
Buscombe, Edward. "Painting the Legend: Frederic Remington and the Western." Cinema Journal 23, No. 4 (Summer 1984): 12-27.
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