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VERSO
Label, Santa Barbara Museum of Art,
Santa Barbara, CA (incorrectly dated 1902)

Creased is recorded in the C. M. Russell Catalogue Raisonné as reference number CR.UNL.604.

PROVENANCE
The John J. “Jack” Mitchell Collection
Present owners, by descent

EXHIBITED
Art Exhibition: Paintings, Models and Pen Sketches by Charles M. Russell, W.T. Ridgley Calendar Co., Great Falls, MT, Dec 22 - 31, 1912
Special Exhibition, Paintings by Charles M. Russell, Winnipeg Stampede, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Sept 9 - 12, 1913
Paintings by Charles M. Russell of the West That Has Passed, Doré Galleries, London, England, Apr 2 - 30, 1914

LITERATURE
Exhibition catalog, Ridgley Calendar Co. Exhibition (Great Falls, MT: Ridgley Calendar Co., 1912), no. 8, listed
Exhibition catalog, Special Exhibition: Paintings by Charles M. Russell (Winnipeg, Manitoba: Winnipeg Stampede, Aug 1913), no. 18, listed
Persimmon Hill, vol. 11, nos. 3-4 (Oklahoma City, OK: National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center, 1982), pp 28-9, illustrated
Larry Len Peterson. Charles M. Russell, Legacy: Printed and Published Works of Montana’s Cowboy Artist (Helena, MT: Falcon Publishing / C. M. Russell Museum, 1999), p 252, item 322, listed

Photo credit of Charles M. Russell in studio: Unknown photographer; C.M. Russell at work painting When the Land Belonged to God (n.d.). Black and white photograph, 11 × 14 inches. Collection of the C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana. Gift of Richard Flood II (975-12-148.10).


CREASED

In the broader context of Western American art, since the days of George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, and Alfred Jacob Miller, sporting subjects have always held a particular appeal for patrons. Charles M. Russell from the outset made hunting pictures part of his Western repertoire––buffalo hunts, of course, like his predecessors, but also pictures showing hunters, native and frontiersmen alike, stalking antelope and elk and deer and having the occasional brush with unamused bears. Wildlife subjects figured in most of Russell’s exhibitions and were especially prominent among his bronze sculptures. Beginning in 1914, Russell introduced a recurring feature in his exhibitions: major oil paintings of hunting scenes set amidst wilderness splendor, showing sportsmen confronting bears, chasing elk, and facing dilemmas like the retrieval of a slain mountain sheep that has fallen on a narrow ledge in mountainous terrain. Such hunting pictures became a Russell staple, elbowing out depictions of gunplay in the Old West by setting the action in a timeless West that appealed to twentieth-century viewers hungry for adventures of their own in the great out-of-doors. Celebrated oils like Up Against It (1912), Dangerous Cripple (1913), Whose Meat? (1914), Meat’s Not Meat Til Its in the Pan (1915), Price of His Hide (1915), When the Nose of a Horse Beats the Eyes of a Man (1916), and Where Tracks Spell Meat (1916) come to mind. It is worth noting that they were anticipated in earlier Russell exhibitions by expertly rendered watercolors like Christmas Dinner for Men on the Trail (1905), A Wounded Grizzly (1906), Disputed Trail (1908), Unexpected Guest (1910), and Creased (1911).

Disputed Trail, a classic depiction of a man-bear confrontation, sold at the first Calgary Stampede in 1912. Its place was taken in subsequent exhibitions by the equally dramatic, if less familiar, Creased, showing an elk hunt nearly gone awry. It vividly demonstrates Russell’s skill as a watercolorist in full control of his medium as he creates another heart-pounding action painting. A wounded elk’s dying lunge is the subject, and Russell’s dynamic composition reinforces the inherent drama. He organizes his picture’s elements in the form of a wedge. Its left side is a diagonal slash created by a chain of interlocked figures receding into space, reaching from the foreground and the elk, seen from the rear, fallen literally at the feet of the hunter who, rocked backwards by its final charge, faces forward, his expression registering his close brush with death, while his frantic horse behind, staked to the ground when the hunter dismounted to take his shot, recoils from the frenzied action. The right side of the wedge is created by the packhorse dragged towards the turmoil by its lead rope tied to the hunter’s saddle horn. Every element in the picture is integrated to maximize its impact–– even the mountain range stretching serenely across the background.

The wedge- or “V”-shaped composition of Creased resembles that of an oil also painted in 1911, Bushwhacked. It hung with the watercolor at its three recorded exhibitions, at the Ridgley Calendar Company in Great Falls (December 22-31, 1912), the Winnipeg Stampede (September 9-12, 1913), and the Doré Galleries in London (April 2-30, 1914). Both paintings are action pictures with entirely different subjects, Bushwhacked showing the chaos created by a gun shot fired at two mounted men. Since Bushwhacked and Creased were exhibited together, they were in effect companion pieces, a relationship established by a photograph taken in Russell’s studio in 1914 shortly after his return from England.

Creased’s challenging––even daring–– composition so impressed a critic in 1913 that it was singled out from the seven Russell watercolors on display at the Winnipeg Stampede for special praise. “The foreshortening of this picture is remarkable and the positions of the man, the horse and the stag are such as many an artist would have fought shy of attempting to depict,” the Winnipeg Free Press noted on August 12. “But Mr. Russell paints things as he sees them and does not trouble to work round his subject to get an effect just as telling but not so real.” In fact, it is hard to imagine another effect as telling as the one Russell chose to feature. From conception to execution, Creased is a masterful achievement.

Brian W. Dippie

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