My Cart

Close

Charles Marion Russell (March 19, 1864 – October 24, 1926)

Written by Brett Nelson

• 

Posted on October 12 2019

Charles Marion Russell was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He is also known by the names C. M. Russell, Charlie Russell, and often as the cowboy artist or "Kid" Russell in art history. He was an old American West artist, having created over two thousand paintings portraying American West landscapes, but his famous works are of cowboys and Indians. His landscapes drew from the terrains of Alberta, Canada and the Western United States. Russell was a painter, a storyteller, folklorist, and author. The vast majority of his artwork, artifacts, and personal possessions are now housed at the C. M. Russell Museum Complex that is situated in Great Falls, Montana today. Other collections of his work are kept by the Montana Historical Society, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and two other museums in Texas.

Russell's life had always been connected with the arts. He grew up in Missouri and began sketching animals and landscape from a young age, along with clay sculpture works. Early on Russell grew to have intense interests in the wild west culture. He watched fur traders and explorers, as they made their way through Missouri headed westward. He also learned to ride horses very young on the Hazel Dell Farm in Illinois. His horse training came from one Col. William H. Fulkerson, who let him ride a Civil War horse called Great Britain. Russell quit school at sixteen years old, leaving his home for a sheep ranch in Montana to work. He worked next as a hunter and trapper for a ranch owner named Jake Hoover in the Judith Basin's O-H Ranch. The two men became life long friends. Russell would remain in Montana the majority of his life, working as a cowboy and did his first watercolor works to document the bitter winter of 1886 to 1887.

During this same time period, a foreman for the O-H Ranch had asked in a letter how the cattle herd was doing, the ranch hand sent one of Russell's watercolor pictures instead of a letter. It was a picture of a starving steer being stalked by wolves under a dark winter sky. It was displayed in a Helena, Montana shop and drew attention to Russell's work for the first time. He got steady requests for work as an artist after this. The piece had 'Waiting for a Chinook' as the caption, since this has become one of his most famous works historically.

In 1888, Russell would spend time with the Blood Indians of the Blackfeet nation, he even lived with them. Art historians believe much of his detailed knowledge about Native American culture comes from this era in Russell's live. After two years, he did go back to the white culture, but left the O-H Ranch and moved to Great Falls, Montana. In 1896, Russell got married to his wife Nancy, then moved together from Cascade to Great Falls. Russell spent the majority of his life here, and a vast majority of his art was created in this location. He became a local celebrity, but his wife is credited with marketing him on an international level. Her efforts got his work showing throughout the United States and even London.

Charles Marion Russell has an extensive body of work. His art is easily the most influential on the style and genres related to old West American painting. His portrayals of women, cowboys, and Native Americans shaped the minds of the generation he lived in greatly. His watercolor work is historical and classic in and of itself. Russell was a pioneer in the art world and is responsible for a great American art legacy in pencil, inks, paints and watercolors.

 

View Charles Marion Russell Gallery