Frederic Remington Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.