Frederic Sackrider Remington filled his school notebooks full of sketches, often depicting Old West characters and equestrian figures. Remington’s fondness for horses also materialized at an early age.
As a boy, Remington was an accomplished rider, a skill imparted by his father who had been a cavalry officer during the Civil War.
In 1872, the Remington family moved to Ogdensburg, New York, where young Remington was enrolled in a military academy at the age of fifteen.
The young Remington’s fervent desire to become an artist convinced his parents to let him take art classes at Yale University in 1878. Frederic Remington was one of the first two students to enter the Yale University Art School.
After an initial period of enthusiasm, Remington soon became discouraged with the tedious routine of academic art instruction and turned his interest to athletics, becoming the Yale boxing champion and a member of the football team.
After leaving Yale upon the death of his father, Frederic Remington worked briefly at several office jobs, but could not settle down.
Remington’s famed career as the quintessential Western artist, was launched by a marriage proposal.
The father of the prospective bride refused to give his daughter’s hand to a feckless, improper artist.
Remington headed west, partly to forget and partly to show that he was a true artist of worth.
Remington spent five years traveling in the West, working as a lumberjack, a cowboy and sheep rancher, prospecting for gold and fighting as a soldier against the renegade Sioux.
During this time, Frederic Remington decided to commit himself to the artistic representation of the history, people and traditions of the “Old West.”
Remington studied and sketched the land around him with almost photographic eyes. His subjects were of prime importance, and his heroes were the everyday people of the frontier. He insisted on realism in every detail.
Remington befriended anyone who could give him additional insight into his obsession. He talked to cowboys, saloon keepers, Indians, soldiers and settlers.
Remington became a close friend of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and was often invited to stay at his famous ranch.
Remington was an observer of many historical events such as the battle at Wounded Knee. Not only did Remington record these events with pen, ink and paint, he wrote about them.
Upon the death of his father in 1880, Remington at age 21 inherited $9,000 from his father’s estate, which he used to buy a small ranch in Kansas and with several other men eventually purchased a saloon in Kansas City.
Even though he was cheated by his partners and lost considerable money, Remington had been selling some paintings and drawings of his own, and he felt confident enough of his eventual success to return to New York, where he married his beloved Eva.
However, with his inheritance gone, Remington found it hard to make a living on the sale of his paintings alone and began to illustrate for Outing Magazine, Harper’s Weekly, Youth’s Companion and Century.
His first accomplishment as a professional artist came in 1882, when one of his sketches was published in the February 25 issue of “Harper’s Weekly”.
He began to get regular commissions and by 1887 was supporting himself well. That year, he produced several important easel works. He exhibited a painting at the American Water Color Society Show and another at the National Academy of Design Exhibition.
The Century articles were written by Theodore Roosevelt, and the collaboration was eventually published in book form. Immensely popular, the book contained ninety-nine Remington drawings and greatly furthered his career.
Remington also illustrated Frances Parkman’s novel, “Oregon Trail.”
The following year, in 1888, he won two prestigious awards at the National Academy: The Hallgarten Prize and the Clark Prize. Remington had finally achieved full success in his field and he was deluged with commissions.
By 1890, his stature and wealth allowed him to buy a mansion in New Rochelle, Connecticut, where he built a large studio and art gallery which he stocked with his collection of western artifacts.
Remington called himself a historian by virtue of his collected magazine articles, illustrated by himself, and wrote two historical novels, John Ermine of the Yellowstone and the Way of an Indian. He also completed illustrations for his friend Owen Wister’s
Done in the Open.
As an artist/journalist during the Spanish American War, Remington became a war correspondent to Cuba in 1898 where he witnessed the capture of San Juan Hill.
Remington was always fascinated by the motion of horses and took many photos of them with the newly invented roll film box camera.
Remington painted and sculpted the animals often, frequently at full gallop, but always juxtaposed them with human figures, never drawing single horse portraits.
The same was true of Remington’s landscapes, which invariably had human activity in them.
In 1895, he began working in bronze and cast his famous work, “The Bronco Buster.” He became so enamored of sculpting that his painting quality deteriorated.
His early paintings of the West were much more literal depictions than his romanticized later ones of the disappearing West. In his later years, he preferred to paint nocturnes because it allowed him greater freedom and depth of perspective.
Because Remington is so associated with the American West, it may be surprising that he spent time with Augustus Saint-Gaudens and others in the artist colony in Cornish, New Hampshire.
In 1909, at the height of his fame, Remington died of appendicitis at the age of forty-eight in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
Remington’s death did not diminish the popularity of his drawings, paintings and bronzes and in the years since, his works have been used to constantly illustrate the history of the American West.