Gilcrease Museum is temporarily closed for construction.

Get the Full Story
Date posted:  February 4, 2016

Born on March 19, 1864 in St. Louis, Missouri, Russell discovered a love of drawing while still a boy. He also dreamed of being a cowboy and left home at the age of 16 for the open range of the Montana territory. He worked first as a hired hand on a sheep ranch and hunter’s assistant. In only a few years, however, the young man found work on a cattle ranch where he was exposed to the cowboy life that would characterize much of his work throughout his later career. With no formal training, Russell had few artistic influences, but did draw inspiration from such notables as George Catlin, Karl Bodmer, and Frederic Remington. Russell’s main influences, however, were the people and events that surrounded him in his early years on the range. American Indians were always a central focal point and were incorporated in the majority of his artworks.

In 1896, Russell married Nancy Cooper, who went on to become his most passionate admirer, critic, and art dealer. Indeed, Nancy Russell’s influence is perhaps under-appreciated in the perpetuation of C.M. Russell’s work as an artist. After Russell died in 1926, Nancy went on to promote her husband’s art through sales and publications until her own death in 1940. Russell’s paintings connect with the viewer not only in his enthusiastic depiction of movement and action, but sometimes also in the stillness and thoughtful repose of his subjects. Russell strived to convey emotion — humor, sadness, desperation, apprehension, and determination, in short, the human condition — against the backdrop of the vast and rugged western landscape. His paintings and sculpture speak with an authority and a genuineness that remain unmatched by his contemporaries.

Though widely challenged, Russell was without peer in his ability to reconcile his own thoughts and emotions with the viewer, to convey authentic stories of western life with individuals far removed from the late 19th century western American experience. For all time, Russell captured the imagery of a world fast fading into history. Indeed, his works continue to speak across time and space and remain relevant after nearly a century.