Landscapes You Can See In Charles Marion Russell's Paintings

Charles Marion Russell, an American artist of the old American West, was born in March 1864 and died on October 24, 1926, aged 63. He produced over 2,000 paintings, including bronze sculptures, depicting cowboys, Native Americans, and landscapes from Alberta, Canada, and the western United States. In addition, he was a storyteller and author referred to as "the cowboy artist."

Landscapes You Can See In Charles Marion Russell's Paintings
Wally Gobetz on Flickr
Denver - Civic Center: Denver Art Museum - Charles Marion Russell's In the Enemy's Country

He developed into a supporter of Native Americans in the West and helped the landless Chippewa in their effort to establish a reservation in Montana. As a result, the Rocky Boy Reservation was established by legislation passed by Congress in 1916.

This article will look at some of Charles Russell's paintings that defined his legacy. If you go through the list of Charles Russell paintings, you will see all kinds of paintings in his repertoire. However, this article will focus on discussing his landscape paintings.

Laugh Kills Lonesome

This is one of only two nocturnal landscape paintings in the Russell collection, and it was created a year before his passing. It is also the most overtly sentimental. Russell increasingly focused on the past as he struggled with ill health and lived in a twentieth-century West that was changing in ways he did not like. No artwork more effectively captures his lamentation for a bygone era and location—the frontier he had adored when he first came to Montana.

Charles had a youthful conception of the West characterized by boundless expanses and freedom. His was a perpetual boyhood, full of promise and nostalgia. But, unfortunately, he came to view the West (and his boyhood) as a lost paradise that he missed and would never be able to visit again.

Since Charlie is more interested in mood than verisimilitude, he paints the figures in a very sketchy manner. The sky and the surroundings are painted in cool, muted tones. The stars appear nearly heavenly, and the moon shines beautifully in the distance, but neither of these objects casts a cool glow over the scene since they are so far away and difficult to reach.

The bonfire, which casts a warm glow over the chuck wagon, some basic tools, and the cowboys themselves, provides the image's main source of warmth. They are just a group of happy men who enjoy the outdoors, their lives, and one another after a long life of labor; nothing is particularly admirable about their attitudes or deeds.

The last few years of Charlie's life were spent in poor health, and in this painting, it is clear that he is contemplating his past. However, it is not a look of sadness or loss but a look of contentment.

Loops and Swift Horses Are Better Than Lead

Loops and Swift Horses are Surer Than Lead; the title of this piece is the most apparent place to start. Over the years, reviews of Western art have allowed us to look at several paintings that feature bears in threatening poses. The bear may be the enemy Western artists most frequently depict after Native Americans, robbers, and overzealous lawmen.

But most of Charlie's contemporaries would go the easy way out and depict the bear being shot and killed by Westerners. (Or preparing to do so by pulling out their weapons or putting them down after doing so.) Charles, not so.

Despite being well-armed, his cowboy heroes tie the bear and drive it to a safer location. Charlie never saw the West as a vast landscape of misery and brutality but as a boyish paradise of freedom and fun. He was always more Roy Rogers than Clint Eastwood.

Charlie's vision might have been more accurate if this painting is any indication. Based on a true story, Loops and Swift Horses is now on display at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. His friends, the Coburn brothers of the renowned Circle C Ranch in eastern Montana, who reported the roping of a massive brown bear, inspired this painting. Unfortunately, Charlie's use of artistic license in transforming the bruin into a grizzly bear was taken. Still, the remainder of the narrative was accurate—right down to the picturesque Coburn Buttes in the distance.

Bronc To Breakfast

This oil landscape painting by Charles Russell was created in 1908. This one is one of Russell's most well-known memories of life at the cow camp and possibly the best illustration of what the kitchen looked like on the range. The camp cook, who has a butcher knife in hand and is threatening severe consequences for this behavior, agrees with all the characters involved, including Charlie, that this catastrophe was unacceptable behavior.

Russell did not leave a written account of this painting's inspiration source. The scene may be apocryphal, but it's also plausible that it accurately depicts a real-life incident that Russell saw.

Here, Charlie shows himself watching the twisting bronc kick the morning coffee, a frying pan filled with bacon, and Dutch oven biscuits into the fire while sitting on the right and holding a plate of food. The irate cook is holding a knife while donning an apron constructed from an empty bag of "Pillsbury's Best XXXX" flour. Many of Russell's works have the distinctive trait of finding humor in such situations. He never wanted to see anyone hurt, though.


We hope you enjoyed reading this article on the works of Charles Marion Russell. If you want to learn more about Charles Russell's paintings, we recommend checking out our other blog posts!