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According to Rick Stewart who has completed a major study of Russell’s watercolors that is expected to be published in the fall of 2014, “Early in his career Russell was given the opportunity to provide illustrations for a book written by Emerson Hough, a Chicago journalist, titled The Story of the Cowboy. “There was a time when the name of ‘cowboy’ was one with which to frighten children, and it carried with it everything of absolute disregard for law and order,” Hough wrote in his popular book, published in 1897. “In the early days of the drive, it was a regular and comparatively innocent pastime to ‘shoot up the town.’ To shoot out the lights of a saloon was a simple occupation, and to compel a tenderfoot to dance to the tune of a revolver was looked upon as a legitimate and pleasing diversion.” As a young cowhand Russell witnessed many such occasions, when drunken cowboys rode with wild abandon, firing their pistols into the air as they are doing in this watercolor. Russell’s sense of nostalgia and loss for the West he had known as a young man increased as he grew older. Writing to one of his old cowboy friends in 1919, Russell noted that his memory often drifted back ‘over trails long since plowed under’ to recall the time when he was a young and fun-loving cowboy on the open range, and the Indians that he encountered were still able to roam freely. ‘Old Ma Nature was kind to her red children and the old time cow puncher was her adopted son,’ he fondly noted. This watercolor depicting carousing cowboys galloping over a wintry landscape suggests the carefree life that he could only revisit in memory. It exhibits characteristics of Russell’s later work: a greater use of opaque color, softer contours, and shorter, more fluid brushwork.”

Private Collection, Wyoming

Romance Maker: The Watercolors of Charles M. Russell
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, February 2 - May 13, 2012
C. M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana, June 15 - September 15, 2012

Rick Stewart, Romance Maker: The Watercolors of Charles M. Russell (Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum of American Art, 2011), page 120 illustrated

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