2023 Coeur d’Alene Art Auction / Lot 14978 / 306  •  View Catalog  •   • 

Charles M. Russell (1864 – 1926)
To Noses That Read, A Smell That Spells Man (1920)
painted plaster
5 inches high
inscribed on base: To Noses That Read a Smell That Spells Man CM Russell [artist cipher]

According to Russell biographer Dr. Larry Len Peterson, “Simply put, the rarity of this offering is unmatched. This unicorn is the only painted, master plaster that has survived. The paint applied by Russell mimics the greenish patina seen on many of his bronzes. Master plasters were used to produce the molds for casting subjects into bronze. Russell sculpture authority Dr. Rick Stewart wrote, ‘The plaster model of the sculpture was exhibited in Denver [Brown Palace Hotel] in December 1921.’ A writer for the Rocky Mountain News opined, ‘Few people know that Russell is as good a sculptor as he is a painter, and he has on view some exceedingly interesting small bits of sculpture, depicting the wild life of men and animals.’ Later, the bronze version was cast at Roman Bronze Works in New York City from this model and would first be exhibited on March 19, 1922 at the Kanst Art Galleries in Los Angeles, which one reviewer described as ‘a delightful figurine.’

“Late in life as his health failed, Russell drew inspiration from earlier works. For example, his powerful, allegorical bronze The Spirit of Winter (1926) was inspired by Winter of Wolves (1899), one of four watercolors – each representing a different season – that he created for his wife Nancy Russell. Likewise, this model was a salute to his 1900 oil The Lone Wolf, which was part of the famous collection in Bill Rance’s Silver Dollar Saloon, one of Russell’s favorite haunts in Great Falls, Montana. With the coming of Prohibition in Montana, on December 30, 1918 – the last day the saloon was open – Charlie celebrated with his friends at the bar as he gazed at The Lone Wolf that soon would take stunning, three-dimensional form. On October 18, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment led to the Volstead Act, and the entire country went dry. While Russell had stopped drinking over a decade earlier, he opposed the ban. In 1926 he wrote, ‘I drank, but never alone, and when I drank it was no secret. I am still friendly with drinking men.’ Bill Rance was one of them.

“With bounties placed on them, for decades wolves were hunted, much like bison. Russell’s sympathetic nod to one of the symbols of ‘The West That Has Passed’ bears all the hallmarks of high regard for the wolf that became legendary due to its prowess and cunning. Yet, by the 1920s they teetered on the point of extinction. The powerful symbolism of the master model goes much deeper than the wolf just being repulsed by the whiskey bottle, a warning that his hated enemy may be close by. Blackfeet legends, for instance, such as those documented in Blackfoot Lodge Tales by George Bird Grinnell (1892) and Blackfeet Tales of Glacier National Park by James Willard Schultz (1916), tell of stories of Blackfeet morphing into part-wolves, as wise wolves taught lessons to their human counterparts. In that way, not only is the wolf being repulsed by the bottle, but so too is the Native American whose culture has been so damaged by alcohol fed to them by the white man, which has led to a persistent, negative stereotype around the topic of Native American alcohol misuse.

“This work was owned for almost fifty years by Earl C. Adams, one of the great Western art collectors in history and the attorney who handled the Nancy Russell estate. Even in a field of exceptional Russell works, there are a select few that rise to the rank of unique. From the very first glimpse, these are the pieces you remember forever and want to collect. They are a one-off, much like Charles M. Russell. Rarer than any bronze, this holy grail is one of them.”

Charles and Nancy Russell, 1920
Nancy Russell, 1926
Nancy Russell Estate, 1940
Earl C. Adams
The Adams Family Trust, 1986
Private collection, 1996

Earl C. Adams, “The Russell Estate.” Persimmon Hill, vol. 3, no. 2, 1973, pp. 44-57
Earl C. Adams, “The Most Valuable Russell Bronzes.” Persimmon Hill, vol. 3, no. 2, 1973, pp. 58-69
Rick Stewart, Charles M. Russell, Sculptor, Amon Carter Museum, 1994, pp. 243-48
Larry Len Peterson, “The Range Father: The Making of a Russell Bronze.” Russell’s West, vol. 5, no. 1, 1997, pp. 7-11
Larry Len Peterson, Charles M. Russell, Photographing the Legend: A Biography in Words and Pictures, University of Oklahoma Press, 2014, p. 207


Charles M. Russell

1864 – 1926

To Noses That Read, A Smell That Spells Man (1920)
painted plaster
5 inches high
inscribed on base: To Noses That Read a Smell That Spells Man CM Russell [artist cipher]
Sold at Auction: $48,400
Condition ReportPiece is in good condition, with post-casting repairs on wolf’s right-front and right-rear legs.

Important Notice: Statements of condition are provided as a service to potential bidders; such statements are educated opinions and should not be regarded as facts. The Coeur d’Alene Art Auction has no responsibility for any errors or omissions.