The Masterworks of Charles M. Russell: A Retrospective of Painting and Sculpture will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
, in June 2010, presenting more than 60 major works in oil, bronze, and mixed media by the renowned ´cowboy artist´ Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), as well as a selection of personal objects that portray the artist in his own words and images. Virtually self-taught, Russell began to paint early in his career as a cowboy, after he left his privileged St. Louis family at sixteen to work as a night wrangler on a ranch in the Montana Territory. Later on, his iconic images would help define the American West in the popular imagination. With first-hand knowledge of cowboys and outlaws, Native Americans, trappers and hunters, and Western wildlife and wilderness, Russell presented an unparalleled view of a bygone American culture, rich in authentic detail and infused with personal passion. By the time of his death, in 1926, Russell had seen the western culture that he loved radically change. Through his animated artworks, however, he became a western legend in his own right and provided endless inspiration to Hollywood´s first filmmakers. Despite being one of the best-known names in American art, this exhibition is the first major retrospective featuring both Russell´s painting and sculptural work.
The Masterworks of Charles M. Russell will be on view at the MFAH from June 6 to August 29, 2010. Houston is the final venue for the American tour, following presentations at the Denver Art Museum´s Petrie Institute of Western American Art and the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Barrymore Laurence Scherer, of The Wall Street Journal, wrote that the Denver presentation of The Masterworks of Charles M. Russell "may just inspire a new appreciation for Western art as a whole."
"From his legendary paintings of cowboys and Native Americans in rough country to his iconic bronze sculptures of men on horseback, Russell´s gift for storytelling brings our nation´s cultural past to life," said Dr. Peter C. Marzio, MFAH director. "With its unparalleled holdings of artworks by Frederic Remington, who preceded Russell as the chronicler of the American West, the MFAH is a fitting venue for this dramatic presentation of cowboy and Plains Indian life, and the western landscape."
"For fans of the country´s western spaces and the dramatic events that have taken place there, this exhibition presents all of the iconic scenes: clashes between outlaws and lawmen, Native Americans on the Plains, buffalo hunts, and the cowboy experienceall set against starkly beautiful western landscapes," said Dr. Emily Ballew Neff, MFAH curator of American Painting and Sculpture. "More than that," she added, "visitors will see that Russell was much more than a cowboy artist, but also a profound and witty interpreter of a life he knew well."
The exhibition opens with the dynamic cowboy paintings for which Russell is best known, and concludes with his dramatic portrayals of wildlife in pristine western settings undisturbed by man. The narrative of the exhibition mirrors Russell´s increasing alienation from modern urban life and growing devotion to pure nature, as Russell saw his beloved frontier transform from an open range into an urbanized and industrialized landscape. It features sections on cowboys, outlaws and lawmen; cultural collisions between Native Americans and whites in the West; Native American life in all its aspects; trappers and hunters; and wildlife and wilderness.
Both the variety of Russell´s subjects and the range of his expression are among the revelations of this exhibition. Russell was known for his detailed depictions of minute elements of cowboy gear and accurate representations of the cowboys´ particular maneuvers, but his concern over the destruction of the people and landscape of the Northern Plains and his tolerance for human differences are untold hallmarks of his work. Russell viewed Native Americans as holding the only truly authentic claim to the American West, and protested the U.S. government´s injustices and public´s indifference to their removal from their ancestral homelands. He visited the reservations often and made friends with members of the tribes, and Russell used his gift for storytelling to document the Native American lifestyle with dignity, from portrayals of strong, capable Native American women inside the camp to mounted warriors moving across the plains. Although he is best known for his cowboys, depictions of Native Americans dominate Russell´s work.