For the April issue’s story on the Charles Russell exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum of Art in Fort Worth, Senior Editor Lori Moffatt interviewed art historian Rick Stewart, whose new book on the subject, Romance Maker, The Watercolors of Charles M. Russell, was recently published by the museum.
Stewart joined the Amon Carter Museum as a curator of Western art and history in 1986, and was named director of the museum in 1995. A decade later, he resigned the directorship to become chief curator, with the main goal of refocusing his energy on the study of Charles Russell (1864-1926), a prolific artist credited with making some 3,000 paintings, watercolors, drawings, and sculpture in his lifetime. Before dedicating himself to making art in 1893, Russell had spent 11 years working as a cowboy in Montana Territory, where he herded horses and cattle, visited Native American encampments, observed cowpunchers breaking broncos, and sketched the many vivid scenes he encountered.
Here is more of the interview with Rick Stewart:
“The historical details in Russell’s paintings, especially in his early works, are astounding,” says Stewart. “At one point, I had anthropologists go through the watercolors, and they were astonished at the accuracy of the details.”
“When he first started painting, “says Stewart, “he was learning his material— learning what the Indians wore, what a horse looks like under full gallop. So his early works were very realistic. Later, as he grew older and his fame increased, he began settling on subjects to create cinematic images. He imagined, for example, the way a buffalo would look as a regal animal on the horizon. He knew that it was important to present the historical detail, but he also realized that what made his paintings timeless was how they captured adventure, romance, and the nobility of his subjects.”
“You have to remember that Russell was making Western art in the 1890s. To put this in context, the first Western novel as we know it appeared in 1902; the first Western movie with a plot came out in 1903. Russell’s images presaged all of popular culture’s mythmaking and romance; and it’s clear that the early writers, scriptwriters, and cinematographers looked to Russell’s images for inspiration. By the time Russell visited Los Angeles in 1920, he was a celebrity.”