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The Kindergarten (The Story Teller)

The Kindergarten (The Story Teller)
signed 'CM Russell' (lower left)
oil on board
10 1⁄2 x 12 1⁄4 in. (26.7 x 31.1 cm.)
Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York.
W.E. Weiss, 1971.
Mr. & Mrs. William D. Weiss, Jackson, Wyoming, by descent.
Coeur d'Alene, Reno, Nevada, 26 July 2003, lot 83.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
S. Shelton, C.M. Russell’s Pretty Shadow, Los Angeles, California, 1996, illustrated.
R. Cristy, Charles M. Russell, The Storyteller’s Art, Ph.D. dissertation, University of New Mexico, 2004, illustrated.
Great Falls, Montana, Great Falls Chamber of Commerce, Annual Exhibition, n.d.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

In addition to his reputation as the “cowboy artist,” Charlie Russell was a gifted storyteller, historian and writer. He once reflected, “I have always liked to tell stories with the brush so have tried in a way to keep memories’ trails fresh.” (as quoted in The Masterworks of Charles M. Russell, Norman, Oklahoma, 2009, p. 163) In the present work Russell captures how another gifted storyteller spun his tales, while preserving in paint a more private side of Native American life than often seen in his paintings.

During the winter of 1888-89, Russell lived among the Blood Indians on their reservation in Alberta, Canada. This experience had a profound impact on the artist and his work—allowing him to gain a deeper sympathy for their way of life that was quickly disappearing, which he recorded in numerous oils and watercolors. According to a letter on the backing board, “The old Indian Chief in the center of the picture used to sell Buffalo horns at the railroad station in Cascade, Montana. The gay coloring of the picture gives it the real atmosphere of the old Indian days in Montana…the old chief is teaching the children the story of his life with characters printed on the skin side of a Buffalo robe. The number of Tepee’s he has built, the Buffalo’s he has killed, the horses he has owned and the wars he has fought.”

A related watercolor entitled The Story Teller (circa 1893-95) is in the collection of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming. Rick Stewart writes regarding that work, “The Story Teller depicts a group of Blackfeet seated inside a tipi listening with rapt attention to an elderly narrator…[who] gestures to his audience with one hand while holding a pipe in the other. Behind him are two willow backrests, one of them decorated at the top in typical Blackfoot fashion.” (Charles M. Russell Watercolors, 1887-1926, Fort Worth, Texas, 2015, pp. 73, 75) As in the watercolor, in the present oil version Russell delights in depicting all the little details of the interior setting—from the mats on the walls and cozy fire in the foreground, to the decorative blankets and buffalo hides the groups sits upon and the child’s doll at left. Russell collected similar artifacts, which he kept in his studio as a reference for his paintings. In the present work, he adorns the scene with the extensively painted hide assisting the elder with his storytelling, as well as the abandoned bow and arrows in the right foreground. The vibrant colors throughout these detailed elements add warmth and vibrancy to the otherwise shadowed interior environment. Together, they demonstrate Russell’s commitment throughout his career to a sympathetic depiction of his Native American subjects.

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