October 4

This Day in History

Old West

Oct 4, 1861:

Frederic Remington is born in Canton, New York

Frederic Remington, one of the preeminent artists of the American West, is born this day in 1861 in New York.

The son of a comfortable, if not wealthy, family, Remington was one of the first students to attend Yale University's new School of Fine Arts. At Yale he became a skilled painter, but he focused his efforts largely on the traditional subjects of high art, not the Wild West. When he was 19, Remington's father died, leaving him a small inheritance that gave him the freedom to indulge his interest in traveling in the West. As with other transplanted upper-class easterners like Theodore Roosevelt and Owen Wister, Remington quickly developed a deep love for the West and its fast disappearing world of cowboys, Indians, and wide-open spaces. Eventually buying a sheep ranch near Kansas City, Remington continued to travel around his adopted western home, endlessly drawing and painting what he saw.

In 1884, Remington sold his first sketches based on his western travels, and two years later his first fully credited picture appeared on the cover of Harper's Weekly. After that, his popularity as an illustrator grew steadily, and he returned to New York in order to be closer to the largely eastern market for his work. Frequent assignments from publishers, though, ensured that Remington was never away long from the West, and gave him the opportunity to closely observe and sketch his favorite subjects: U.S. Cavalry soldiers, cowboys, and Native Americans. Remington's output was enormous, and during the last 20 years of his life he created more than 2,700 paintings and drawings and published illustrations in 142 books and 42 different magazines. Though most of his paintings were created in his studio in New York, Remington continued to base his work on his western travels and prided himself on accuracy and realism-particularly when it came to horses. He even suggested that he would like his epitaph to read: "He Knew the Horse."

When he died in 1909 in Connecticut, from acute appendicitis, Remington left a body of work that was popular with the public but largely ignored by "serious" museums and art collectors. Since then, though, Remington's paintings, drawings, and illustrations have become prized by collectors and curators around the world, and prominent museums like the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (Cody, Wyoming) and the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art (Tulsa, Oklahoma) have created large permanent exhibitions of his work.

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