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Verso:
Label, Owings-Dewey Fine Art, NM

The Scouting Party is recorded in the C. M. Russell Catalogue Raisonné as reference number CR.UNL.469.

A copy of a letter of authenticity and a brief biography of Louis Heitman, the original owner of The Scouting Party, both written in 2006 by Ginger Renner will accompany the lot.

In discussing this painting, noted Russell authority Ginger Renner wrote, “The above oil painting is entered in the Renner archival cards under the title Scouting Party. This is a subject Charles Russell created a number of times, in oil, watercolor, pen and ink and pencil, each composition being different from the others. In an examination of the art work produced by the cowboy artist in the decade of 1890-1899, the period of time in which this piece was done, one finds a most interesting fact. In a decade in which Russell’s art work is steadily growing in competence, skill, subtlety, a period in which the artist undertakes not only a great many subjects, but also ones of great diversity, one finds across this period great ‘spikes’ of superior work.… SCOUTING PARTY is a ‘spike’ like these. The composition is augmented by the strong palette Russell uses in the central figures. This contrasts with the subtle hues the artist uses to create the miles of land seen in the right background where the plains reach off to the far horizon. This complements the warm last light of day that bathes the flat-topped butte in the left background.”

PROVENANCE:
The Artist
Louis Heitman, Fort Benton, Montana
His daughter, by descent
The Cushman Family Trust and affiliated Cushman family entities, Los Angeles, California

LITERATURE:
Postcard (Great Falls, Montana: W. T. Ridgley Calendar Co., n.d.), illustrated
“Editorial” Rocky Mountain Magazine 1 no. 4 (December, 1900), page 217, illustrated halftone
Kathyryne Wilson, “An Artist of the Plains.” Pacific Monthly 12, no. 6 (December, 1904), page 342 [as A War Party], illustrated
Mary Osborn Douthit, ed. The Souvenir of Western Women (Portland, Oregon: Anderson & Duniway Co., 1905), page 26 [as Indians of the Plains], illustrated
Menu, Park Hotel (Great Falls, Montana: Christmas, 1905), illustrated
Calendar, Reproductions from Charles M. Russell (Great Falls, Montana: W. T. Ridgley Calendar Co., 1906), page 4, illustrated
Katherine Berry Judson, Early Days in Old Oregon (Chicago, Illinois: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1916), facing page 90 [as A War Party], illustrated
John Willard, The C. M. R. Book (Seattle, Washington: Superior Publishing Company, 1970), page 26, illustrated
Brian W. Dippie, Looking at Russell (Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum, 1987), page 82, No. 75, illustrated halftone
Larry Len Peterson, Charles M. Russell Legacy (Helena, Montana: Falcon Publishing, Inc., 1999), page 85 [as The Scouts], illustrated postcard and page 182 [as Indians of the Plains], page 294 [as A War Party], illustrated
Larry Len Peterson, Charles M. Russell, Printed Rarities from Private Collections (Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2008) page 78, illustrated halftone

Charles M. Russell’s favorite subject over the span of his career was a party of Indians on the move or pausing on a promontory to survey the vast, open space before them. It summed up his master theme—“the West that has passed”—and his mournful celebration of a way of life doomed by the forces of progress symbolized by his buffalo skull insignia. Imagination carried him back to the days when the Indians roamed a country they called their own, and the land, as he put it, belonged to God.

After Russell’s storied summer in Alberta in 1888 spent loafing with friends and visiting the local Indians–Blackfeet, Piegans, Bloods, Sarcees–Montana newspapers noted that the “cowboy artist” was devoting more time to Indian than cowboy subjects and, by 1890 were referring to his most recent paintings, done during a stay in the Judith Basin, as “fine specimens of his noted Indian characterizations.”(1) Describing a painting in 1893, a Helena paper observed: “It is one of Russell’s characteristic, dreary sage-brush landscapes, with a rocky cliff in the foreground. Upon this cliff in bold relief against the blue sky stand a group of Indians. Four are on horseback and the fifth . . . stands upon a rock with his hand shading his eyes, gazing intently at some far-off object. . . . The figures are instinct with life, while the rude trappings of the horses, the gaudy coloring of their caparisons and the blankets of the Indians are true to nature.”(2)

The Scouting Party is an excellent example of Russell’s evolving skill in treating this favorite theme. Using a classic compositional principle to effectively group three Indian riders, he arranged the figures into a pyramid, with the raised head and elbow of the foreground Indian establishing its apex, the hooves of his horse its base, and the two men behind its sloping sides. The triangular arrangement is simple and solid, even monumental. The shadowed hilltop serves as a plinth for the group, while a path of light leads the eye up the rise to the foreground figure, bathed in full sunlight, on a white horse, shading his eyes with one hand as he directs the viewer’s gaze into the unseen distance.

The Scouting Party is an early jewel in the Russell crown––well, a feather in his hat-band––dating to the period in which he made his decision to quit the cowboy life and take up his art full time. The Montana papers had pestered him over the years: Why wrangle horses and cattle for a living when he had such a rare artistic talent? Invariably, Russell replied (as he did in an Anaconda paper in 1890), “I would not care to make a business of painting though I like it as a pastime. Very few artists ever become wealthy from the products of their brush. They generally have their merits recognized and procure their reward after their death. . . . I would much prefer to obtain my reward this side of the range.”(3) But the clamor continued—Russell was squandering his matchless gift—and with the days of the open range coming to an end, the “cowboy artist” at last yielded. In 1893, no doubt with trepidation, he elected to make art his profession, not his pastime.

The Scouting Party dates from this turning point in Russell’s life. He was still learning his craft as he went along, but at each stage of his development he painted exceptional works. This was one.

Composition, according to a Russell contemporary, was a primary consideration in creating a work of art. “The first point settled in the making of a picture after the subject has germinated, is the shape into which the items of the concept are to be edited,” Henry R. Poore wrote. “The object which dominates all others is the idea which dominates the picture,” and that idea “must govern the composition.”(4) Monumentality was the idea Russell wanted to express in The Scouting Party, and he chose a composition worthy of his theme . Reproduced in 1905 as a color print and postcard by the Great Falls publisher W. T. Ridgley, it enjoyed local recognition and helped pave the way for the artist’s national fame.

When he died in 1926 Charles Russell left three oil paintings unfinished in his studio. One, given the title Trail’s End after his passing, shows a party of Indians on a ridge surveying the land. It tilts the angle of vision upward making the pyramid of warriors even more prominent against the glowing sky, but in every other respect––from the white horse in the foreground to its sun-washed rider––it pays homage to The Scouting Party. Together, the two paintings complete a circle, linking the fledgling professional artist setting out on his career to the established master he became.

BRIAN W. DIPPIE

NOTES
1. Untitled note, Fergus County Argus, September 25 1890.
2. “Artist Russel’s [sic] Latest,” Anaconda Standard, October 31 1893 (from Helena Herald).
3. “Born to the Brush,” Anaconda Standard, April 27 1890; and see “Local Happenings,” Fergus County Argus, August 27 1891; and C. M. Russell to Friend Pony [William W. “Pony Bill” Davis], May 14 [1889], in Brian W. Dippie, ed., Charles M. Russell, Word Painter: Letters 1887-1926 (Fort Worth, TX: Amon Carter Museum, with Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1993), pp. 16-17.
4. H. R. Poore, Pictorial Composition and the Critical Judgment of Pictures (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1903), pp. 265, 268.

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