Frederic Remington (1861-1909)
Frederic Remington (1861-1909)

Pretty Mother of the Night--White Otter is No Longer a Boy

Frederic Remington (1861-1909)
Pretty Mother of the Night--White Otter is No Longer a Boy
inscribed indistinctly ‘Mr. “Brown Bat Proven **”/“Pretty Mother of the Night"' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
27 1/8 x 40 1/8 in. (68.6 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted circa 1900.
(Possibly) William Randolph Hearst, San Simeon, California.
Newhouse Galleries, Inc., New York.
Private collection, Oklahoma, acquired from the above, circa 1943.
Private collection, Nevada.
Scottsdale Art Auction, Scottsdale, Arizona, 2 April 2011, lot 246.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
F. Remington, “The Way of an Indian,” The Cosmopolitan, November 1905, p. 45, cover illustration.
F. Remington, The Way of an Indian, New York, 1906, frontispiece, cover illustration.
P.H. Hassrick, M.J. Webster, Frederic Remington: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings, vol. II, Cody, Wyoming, 1996, p. 723, no. 2517, pl. 63, illustrated.
B.W. Dippie, The Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection, New York, 2001, pp. 210, 212, illustrated.
S. Tatum, In the Remington Moment, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2010, p. 193.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, and elsewhere, Frederic Remington: The Color of Night, April 13-July 13, 2003, pp. 60, 99, no. 1, fig. 4, illustrated.
Palm Beach, Florida, The Society of the Four Arts, Recapturing the Real West: Collections of William I. Koch, February 4-April 15, 2012.

Brought to you by

Elizabeth Beaman
Elizabeth Beaman

Lot Essay

Around 1900, Frederic Remington’s painting took on a renewed sense of purpose in the form of a greater emphasis on the effects of light and atmosphere, and saw a return to the nocturnal themes he had touched upon in prior years. Developing in earnest an oeuvre of night pictures, the success of his nocturnes was almost immediate, prompting an early reviewer to commend them as more successful than his daylight images. One of the earliest demonstrations of this acclaimed mature style, yet a work grounded in Remington’s success as a storyteller, Pretty Mother of the Night—White Otter is No Longer a Boy “may be seen as the transitional link between the illustrator Remington had been and the painter he aspired to be.” (N.K. Anderson, Frederic Remington: The Color of Night, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 2003, p. 59)

Remington made his first trip out West in the summer of 1881, traveling through Kansas, the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and other Western territories not yet named. “To Frederic Remington, the nineteen-year-old Easterner, the raw and rugged life of the West seemed to be the answer to his restless desire—an engrossing romance, the pages of which he could hardly read and turn fast enough.” (H. McCracken, Frederic Remington: Artist of the Old West, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1947, p. 33) Indeed, Remington not only created illustrations for others’ articles in magazines such as Harper’s Weekly, he also wrote novels of his own, inspired by his travels in the West. Pretty Mother of the Night—White Otter is No Longer a Boy was the signature image for Remington’s second novel The Way of an Indian, first published as a serialized article in The Cosmopolitan in 1905 and subsequently as a book in 1906. The present work was used both as the cover for the magazine and the cover and frontispiece of the book.

Pretty Mother of the Night—White Otter is No Longer a Boy captures the important moment when White Otter, the story’s main character, becomes a man by stealing war-ponies from enemy tribes and obtains an enemy scalp during a war party into Absaroke country with his friend Red Arrow. As the painting depicts, “Filled with great exaltation, they trotted and loped along until the moon came, when White Otter spoke for the first time, addressing it: ‘Pretty Mother of the Night—time of the little brown bat’s flight—see what I have done. White Otter is no longer a boy.’” (F. Remington, The Way of an Indian, New York, 1906, pp. 55-56) Reflecting the accomplishment, Remington portrays the two men majestically seated on their war-ponies with White Otter’s arms raised in triumph. Stationary and surrounded by a barren desert, the two figures evoke a quiet mystery and spirituality that is heightened by White Otter’s gesture to a moon outside of the scope of the viewer’s experience.

As a work of illustration and as a cover for his final book, Pretty Mother of the Night—White Otter is No Longer a Boy marks the culmination of Remington’s commercial career as one of the most successful and accomplished illustrators of the period in American history known as the Golden Age of Illustration.

Pretty Mother of the Night—White Otter is No Longer a Boy is equally notable within Remington’s oeuvre in that it reveals important artistic developments that came to characterize his most successful mature works. Nancy K. Anderson explains, “Although…these early nocturnes were conceived to amplify text, Remington had clearly begun experimenting with color and composition in a manner not required of illustration. Only slight remnants of his earlier concern with defining detail remained—a bit of stitchery on the sheaths of knives, a touch of red on the quivers.” (Frederic Remington: The Color of Night, p. 60) As with many of Remington’s best paintings of his later years, the seeming simplicity and sparseness of the present composition is one of its strongest assets. Indeed, Remington wrote, “Big art is the process of elimination, cut down and out—do your hardest work outside the picture, and let your audience take away something to think about—to imagine.” (as quoted in L. Ayers, et al., American Paintings, Selections from the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1986, p. 68)

In this important transitional nocturne, Remington also employs a greater focus on color, particularly the shades of night for which he is most well-known. In late 1899, Remington attended an exhibition of moonlit landscapes by California artist Charles Rollo Peters, who was an admirer of Whistler’s nocturnes. Remington’s interest in the coloristic effects of moonlight was ignited. Using varying hues of blues and greys, he creates an undulating backdrop of dark tonalities from which emerge the stark figures on their horses. Drenched in the shine of the moon, small explosions of white and red glisten in their war paint and clothing. These color effects imbue his characters with a greater sense of monumentality. The prominent critic Royal Cortissoz wrote of Remington’s night scenes that the “study of moonlight appears to have reacted upon the very grain of his art, so that all along the line, in drawing, in brush work, in color, in atmosphere, he has achieved greater freedom and breadth.” (as quoted in Frederic Remington, The Masterworks, p. 149)

The present work demonstrates not only Remington’s accomplished talent in rendering nocturnal effects but also his ability to encapsulate in a single image the pathos of the Native American. Remington by this time in his career was all too aware that the West he cherished, defined by gallant soldiers, fearless cowboys and brave Native Americans, was vanishing. It was works such as Pretty Mother of the Night—White Otter is No Longer a Boy and its accompanying novel that enabled Remington to keep his mythological vision of the West alive, not only for himself but for a nation.?

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