The Cowboy Artist

In Without Knocking (1909 oil on canvas), is considered by some as the best western work ever painted. It will be on loan from the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas to the Glenbow Museum for the duration of the Charlie Russell Exhibition.

At the 1912 Calgary Stampede, there was a rodeo, a parade, and a Charlie Russell Exhibition. Next to the rodeo the artwork of Charlie Russell was perhaps the highlight of the inaugural Stampede. For Russell’s career it was a defining moment, both critically and financially. He not only sold 13 of the 20 paintings he brought to the Exhibition, his work gained international attention and a host of new and wealthy patrons, including the titled Englishman who bought four, and the wealthy Torontonian, who took home three.

That year, Russell’s artwork was also featured on the first Calgary Stampede poster.

For eight weeks from June 2 to July 29, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary will be featuring 18 of those 20 works showcased at the 1912 Calgary Stampede, for a special exhibition, titled “Charlie Russell and the First Calgary Stampede.” 

Aspiring journalist, Jenny Antonenko is currently interning with Western Horse Review, and yesterday she caught up with Glenbow Senior Curator, Lorain Lounsberry to ask her a few questions about the Exhibition. She discovered one of the greatest challenges of tracking down 18 (for the Glenbow already held two of the original 20) 100-year-old paintings was following the trail of title renamings over the past century.

As Lounsberry related to Jenny, “Not only are they scattered in private and public institutions over nine states and one province, the names kept changing on those paintings, so to be able to match up those paintings with the title that they now exist under was a bit of a challenge.”

The Glenbow crew worked with Dr. Brian Dippie, a Russell scholar, based out of Victoria, B.C., and they now have most of them nailed down, although, “there a couple that may not be the exact ones but they are very similar. We’ve been very careful; we do have a companion book [for the Exhibition], and Dr. Dippie in his essay indicates that it’s not one hundred percent certain, but it’s so close and so compelling an argument that we feel that if this painting wasn’t the one, it’s a good stand-in.”

Call of the Law, 1911 oil on canvas, is on loan from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City for this Exhibition.

The paintings were gathered from private lenders and such leading galleries as the Amon Carter Museum (Fort Worth, Texas), the C.M. Russell Museum (Great Falls, Montana), the Tucson Museum of Art and two works from the Glenbow’s own collection.

Undoubtedly this collection of Russells’ represents his greatest work, and all of his passions – the landscape, the wildlife, the ranches, the First Nations people, the cowboys. The Old West as Russell viewed it.

I believe we have been gifted with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view this collection of iconic art from the Cowboy Artist.

Stolen Horses, an original Russell held by the Glenbow is part of the Exhibition.

Russell’s links to the Canadian West were many, and his work is forever a testatment to his love of the land and people. After he died in 1926, A. E. Cross – one of the “Big Four” of the Calgary Stampede expressed what Russell’s passing meant for western Canadians with a note to his wife, Nancy. Within it, he penned this sentence:

“You have not only my entire sympathy, but the sympathy of all the old cow men in this country.”

Perfectly put, I’ve always loved that quote. And, I can’t wait to visit the Glenbow for this Exhibition.

Comments

  1. It is also more than likely that Charlie Russell’s protege, the Centenniel Stampede Parade Marshal, Ian Tyson will be launching his 14th album, Raven Singer at this event, and I expect that he will play ‘The Gift’ in a room full of Russells’. I don’t think that anyone of us will want to miss this.

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