Famous American Western Artists: Remington, Russell, Catlin, Bierstadt, Moran
The following artists are quite well-known by American Western art collectors, and are reknowned for their pioneering work in documenting the history, mythology, and ethnography of the American West. Come take a look at some of the best known Western artists of the 19th century.
Western Artists come from many walks of life. Some of the most famous artists made their fortunes featuring the mythic aspects of the American West in their artwork. Some never lived in the west, and a few weren't even Americans.
The following list is my attempt to highlight some of the most well-known western artists from the 19th century. You will find many of the most sought-after and collectible artists of the 20th and 21st centuries missing. You will probably recognize most of them. It is not an attempt to choose out the best or the most valuable. I do hope that by featuring the works of these artists in this article, you will have an enjoyable virtual visit! Sign in and share which artist's work you liked the best!
Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926)
Charles Marion Russell was such an important and prolific Western artist, his works can be found in over 50 museums in the United States and even around the world.
Russell was adept in several mediums. He painted in oils, gouache (a type of watercolor), and sculpted. You will find that you can view many copies of his popular cast-bronze sculptures in a number of venues, because bronzes are made by pouring molten metal into a mold made from the original piece of artwork. Bronze pieces are usually made in limited quantities at a foundry. The numbered copies of these bronzes are very collectible, with the first editions, usually numbered on the sculpture like a print. Most Western art museums contain at least a few works by this influential artist.
Russell's representational style included cowboys, indians, and landscapes inspired by visits to National Parks, California, Arizona, and Colorado. The color palettes are muted, but realistic, and his paintings and sculptures are dominated by a sense of movement and action. Russell depicted a mythic American West.
Charles Russell's paintings are more valuable than his sculpture, simply because their numbers are fewer. However, his sculpture is probably what he is best known for, again, because it is so prolific.
Museums with Charles Russell Artwork
Charles Russell's works can be found in over 50 museums.
- Amon G. Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
- Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming
- C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana
- National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Desert Caballeros Western Museum, Wickenburg, Arizona
- Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, Indiana
- The White House, Washington D.C.
George Catlin (1796-1872)
George Catlin was most well-known for his comprehensive ethnographic portraits of 48 Indian tribal groups. He travelled for 8 years and produced over 500 portraits depicting Native Americans in full-costume, capturing their dress and hairstyles for posterity before the Civil War and before the Mormon emigraion to Utah, when the American frontier began in Missouri. His travels were dangerous, but he became famous among the Indians he depicted, so he was offered safe passage in tribal lands. Catlin's work is considered equally important for its historical/ethnographic content, as well as its finely-executed realistic depictions of hundreds of subjects.
Catlin was a painter who worked in oils and watercolor, and specialized in printmaking. His work is well-preserved and prolific, due to the existence of these prints.
Museums with George Catlin Artwork
This list isn't comprehensive. George Catlin's artwork can be found in 37 museums.
- National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
- Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Desert Caballeros Western Museum, Wickenburg, Arizona
- Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado
- The Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
- The Grace Museum, Abilene, Texas
Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
Albert Bierstadt was a German/American painter best known for his romantic landscapes. He was a prolific producer and very financially successful during his time. One of his commissioned paintings brought him $25,000 over 150 years ago. A lot of money now, an astronomical sum for a painter in the 19th century!
Bierstadt's popularity was well-justified. His beautiful landscapes manipulate light in a technique called "luminism". His paintings of beautiful places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, California, etc. often use strong contrasts of light and darkness in a technique called "chiaroscuro", which is an Italian term usually applied in Art History to portrait paintings. Though I personally think it fits Bierstadt's work and his European influences. However, Bierstadt uses this effect to create romance and grandeur in his landscapes. His work fueled the imagination of many Americans who settled in the West, and his paintings helped Easterners to appreciate the lands that later became a part of the U.S. National Park system.
Bierstadt belonged to the Hudson River School of painters, and worked in many mediums, including oils, pastels, watercolors, gouache, charcoal, and inks. His prolific output, popularity, and status both now and then have caused his works to appear in over 100 museums across the United States. Bierstadt is one of my personal favorite artists. His paintings of Yosemite are inspirational.
Selected Museums with Albert Bierstadt Artwork
Thomas Moran (1837-1926)
Thomas Moran was an English-born landscape painter who immortalized his Western landscapes like Albert Bierdstadt. Thomas immigrated to America with his family when his father's job as a loom operator became obsolete during the height of the industrial revolution. Thomas' brother Edward was also a painter.
Moran's signature style of painting with intense shades of color were especially effective in capturing the awesome grandeur and drama of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite national parks. These parks form the backbone of his landscape work. His landscapes often depict steep and dramatic mountains, rock formations, and natural wonders, with dark clouds. His paintings carry a high sense of drama. Look at Moran's paintings closely and then compare them to Bierstadt's. Can you see the stylistically different treatment of similar subjects?
Thomas Moran made many trips to the national parks of the Western United States, and in later years, his status as the artist of the Grand Canyon was immortalized by the Burlington and Northern Railroad in its advertisements.
Moran was adept in many artistic mediums, including gouache, watercolor, oils, printmaking, engraving, lithography, and watercolor.
Thomas Moran's work is featured in over 100 museums in the United States.
Frederick Remington (1861-1909)
Born relatively late in the 19th century, Frederick Remington always knew he wanted to be an artist. At age 15, Remington attended a military academy in New York state. According to his biographers, Remington moved out West to prove his merit as an artist to his fiancee's father. He bought a saloon in Kansas and was bamboozled, but eventually established a flourishing career as a fine artist, journalist, illustrator, and even war correspondent. He even got to marry his sweetheart!
Remington was both a painter and a sculptor. His subjects often included calvalry officers, Indians, and horses. His cast bronze sculptures were reproduced at forges and sold in multiple copies in a series, similarly to the idea of print making. He made all of his bronzes during the last 10 years of his life, which ended at the untimely age of 48, due to health complications.
Remington was fascinated by what he called the "Old West" and he travelled in the West during his adult life collecting subject material. However, I am always struck by the almost manicured portrait of an artist wearing a stiff, Eastern suit. Ironically, this man defined the art of the West and still commands a grand seat as one of the big granddaddy's of Western art, yet he remained more an observer than a participant in the actual Western lifestyle, preferring to do most of his work in New York City.
Frederick Remington's artwork is featured in over 80 museums across the United States.
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