Thomas Nygard Gallery - 19th and 20th Century American Art



Charles Marion

(1864 - 1926)

Charles Marion Russell was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on March 19, 1864.  Although Russell was raised with the intention of running the family business, he instead developed colorful ambitions toward becoming a cowboy.  His other great ambition was to paint.  He was constantly sketching in his schoolbooks and his principal subjects were cowboys and Indians.


In 1880, Russell set out for Montana.  He arrived in Helena and took a job as a sheep herder.  All the time he continued his painting, spending long hours sketching the wild animals he observed in his daily life.  Two years after moving to Montana he hired out as a cowboy, to keep watch on horses, and later as a "night hawk" to watch the cattle at night.  Russell was constantly sketching during his off hours and was slowly developing a local reputation as an artist.  In 1888, Russell had his first national exposure when one of his sketches appeared in Harper's Weekly, his first paid illustration.


Russell's years as a cowboy were to be very important in his art.  His firsthand experiences and his intimate knowledge of the cowboy's tools and ways were to produce the distinctive realism that is characteristic of his style.  He portrayed actual events and people in his paintings.  Many legends and stories of the West that he often used in his works were originally heard by Russell in evening discussions and camp talk during his years as a cowboy.  Russell was also a fervent admirer of the American Indian and often portrayed them as heroic figures struggling to preserve their way of life.  In the winter of 1888-89, Russell lived with the primitive Blood Indians in Canada.


By 1915, he was a complete success, getting large prices for his paintings and selling all that he could produce.  Success, however, did not change Russell's character or charm.  He was still the friendly cowboy and he could not understand why people paid so much money for his work.


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133 East Main Street

Bozeman, Montana 59715

 phone: 406.586.3636