Return to Calgary exhibit reaches to Canada

Russell Museum’s new exhibit follows Montana's cowboy artist to Calgary in 1919

Art Beat

With its new exhibit, Return to Calgary: Charles M. Russell and the 1919 Victory Stampede, the C. M. Russell Museum in Great Falls reaches into the Canadian borderlands to examine a period of history when the city of Calgary sought to promote its own brand of western heritage.

The year 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of Calgary’s 1919 “Victory” Stampede, which billed itself as the world’s championship frontier contest and victory celebration, marking the end of the Great War.

Calgary Stampede Parade of 1919 was part of the city’s celebration of the end of the Great War.Photo © C.M. Russell Museum

While the event was inspired by a string of Allied celebrations taking place across the globe, the spirit that undergirded it was undoubtedly western American. Taking place Aug. 25–30, 1919, the Stampede was embraced by businesses and residents alike across Calgary and became a means to deliver the West and its cowboys – bronc riders, ropers and steer wrestlers – to audiences across western Canada and the Pacific Northwest.

Already at the apex of his career, Charles M. Russell was invited by rodeo showman and Stampede manager Guy Weadick to mount a fine art exhibition of his paintings and sculptures at Stampede Park, then known as Victoria Park. It would be the artist’s second time to do so, as he had exhibited in Calgary at the 1912 Stampede.

Charles and Nancy Russell shipped north 24 paintings and eight bronzes for the show, nine of which sold before year’s end – indicative of the strength of Russell’s subject matter and execution during his artistic prime.

With Return to Calgary the C. M. Russell Museum extends its reach as a chronicler of western history and American art. The accompanying catalogue, edited by Russell scholar Brian Dippie, serves as a lasting visual record of Russell’s 1919 special exhibition at the Calgary Victory Stampede and underscores the Stampede’s importance to the successful marketing and sale of Russell’s art abroad.

The seed of inspiration for this project was sown in 2012 at the Glenbow Museum of Art in Calgary, where Russell’s exhibition at the first Calgary Stampede, in 1912, was restaged.

Seven years hence, the Russell Museum is leading the effort to produce this major show, celebrating the artist’s return to Calgary in 1919. On view in Great Falls from June 7 to Sept. 30, Return to Calgary: Charles M. Russell and the 1919 Victory Stampede will feature 22 of the 24 paintings and all eight bronzes that were originally on display, gleaned from 15 public and private collections. The resulting exhibit nearly replicates the 1919 display of Russell’s work while adding fresh scholarship and perspectives on many of these masterworks, almost entirely gathered from Russell’s greatest single decade.

Concurrently, the C.M. Russell Museum is undertaking a historic partnership with the Calgary Stampede to produce a companion exhibition in giclée of all 24 paintings shown in 1919. The exhibition will be housed in the Western Oasis at Stampede Park throughout the run of the event, July 5-14, 2019.

For more information, visit cmrussell.org.