Four Charles M. Russell watercolors consigned to live auction of The Russell

Art Beat

“Cowboy on a Bay Horse” by Charles M. Russell

Four original watercolor paintings by Charles M. Russell have been consigned to the live auction on Saturday, March 21, for “The Russell: An Exhibition and Sale to Benefit the C.M. Russell Museum.”

The first watercolor, “An Indian War Party,” was painted in 1902 and is estimated to sell for $250,000 to $300,000. Experts consider this a completely finished work rather than a study because the figures are surprisingly complicated.

In Romance Maker: The Watercolors of Charles M. Russell, art historian Rick Stewart explained that watercolors dominated Russell’s early work because he was more naturally gifted in the medium and the materials he needed were easier to get and use. Created during the heyday of the artist’s production, “An Indian War Party” numbers among the 230 finished watercolors the artist painted from 1896-1909. Native American subjects dominated Russell’s output during this time, numbering 155 works, about 67 percent of his total production.

“Cowboy on a Bay Horse,” 1895, is estimated to sell for $250,000–$300,000 at The Russell live auction. B. Byron Price, director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West at the University of Oklahoma, observed, “The dozen years Charles M. Russell spent as a night herder for Montana cattle outfits provided him with an indelible identity as a ‘Cowboy Artist’ and an inexhaustible supply of colorful subjects. ‘Cowboy on a Bay Horse’ is one of just over two-dozen known equestrian portraits the artist produced of individual range riders during his productive career … Although the identity of the confident cowpuncher in the image is unknown, Russell often portrayed pals with whom he had ridden the range.”

“The Battle between the Blackfeet and Piegans” was painted in 1897. Brian W. Dippie, professor emeritus of history at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, describes the painting as “a fine example of Russell’s depiction of a running fight. It is an accomplished work in how it captures a sense of motion and action in the watercolor medium.”

Russell spent the summer of 1888 in Alberta, Canada, on a friend’s a ranch that was located near High River and between the Blackfoot reserve to the north and the Piegan and Blood reserves to the south. The artist spent hours listening to old warriors from the three Blackfoot tribes recount their youthful exploits. “The Battle between the Blackfeet and Piegans” is Russell’s depiction of one of those adventures. It is expected to sell for $275,000 to $375,000.

The last watercolor, “Untitled (Indian on Horseback),” 1898, is an excellent example of Russell’s early single-figure studies. Russell abandoned the cowboy life in 1893, when he started painting full time in Great Falls and Cascade. He created this painting after he married Nancy Cooper in 1896 and moved to Great Falls.

Russell was earning income from paintings and drawings like “Indian on Horseback” to illustrate national magazines, including Recreation, Western Field and Stream, and Sports Afield in 1897. He achieved additional national exposure when six of his works appeared as halftone illustrations in Emerson Hough’s book The Story of the Cowboy (1897). Russell produced this portrait while preparing watercolors for his first New York exhibition at the Macbeth Galleries in 1898. The painting is expected to sell for $150,000 to $250,000.

These four watercolors plus the 270 other pieces of classic and contemporary western artworks available for bidding during The Russell events will be on display at the C.M. Russell Museum beginning Feb. 19, in The Russell Exhibition.

BNSF Railway is the 2015 Presenting Sponsor of The Russell: An Exhibition and Sale to Benefit the C.M. Russell Museum.