Frederic Remington (1861-1909)

Geronimo and his Band Returning from a Raid into Mexico

Frederic Remington (1861-1909)
Geronimo and his Band Returning from a Raid into Mexico
signed 'Remington' lower left
oil on canvas
28 x 21in. (71.1 x 53.4cm.)
Gerald P. Peters Galleries, Inc., Santa Fe, New Mexico
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1973
P.H. Hassrick and M.J. Webster, Frederic Remington: A Catalogue Raisonn of Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings, vol. I, Cody, Wyoming, 1996, no. 352, p. 149, illus.
Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum, Frederic Remington's Southwest, January-March 1992, no. 25 (This exhibition also traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, Brooks Musuem of Art, April-June 1992; Omaha, Nebraska, Joslyn Art Museum, July-Septmber 1992)

Lot Essay

Frederic Remington was employed by Harper's Weekly in the mid-1880s and soon became one of the nation's weekly obsessions. Because of the poor quality of photographs, Harper's stable of illustrators had become terribly important to accompanying the printed word, and helped to deliver thousands of images of life on the frontier in the West. No other illustrator for Harper's ever approached Remington's level of acclaim. Geronimo and His Band Returning from a Raid into Mexico from circa 1888, a multi-figural composition replete with texture and movement, exhibits Remington's superior finesse in handling the complexities of painting in hues of black, white and varying grays. It was images such as this that sprang to life on the printed page and held the attention of millions of readers.

After briefly attending the Yale College School of Art and following his father's's death, Remington made his first trip to the West in the summer of 1881, traveling though Montana. The following year marked the beginning of Remington's career in illustration with a work published in Harper's Weekly. In 1883, wanting to experience the West firsthand, the artist purchased a sheep ranch near Peabody, Kansas. This spurred a move to Kansas City in 1884 with his new wife Eva Caten. The couple returned to New York within a year due to financial troubles. Remington continued to make frequent trips to the south and northwest, areas from which the artist drew his greatest artistic inspiration.

Working for Harper's, Remington was given his first formal artist-correspondent assignment in 1886 to travel out West to Arizona to report on the campaign to capture the Apache chief Geronimo. The pursuit and capture of Geronimo drew significant news coverage in newspapers and magazines at the time. Geronimo, the Apache leader of the Chiricahua Apache led his people in defending his land against the military strength of the United States. The Apache struggled for years against the infiltration and colonization of their homeland in the Southwest by the Spanish and North Americans. Continuing in the tradition of his ancestors, Geronimo, took part of numerous raids into Sonora and Chihuahua in Mexico. The death of his wife and children at the hands of Mexicans in 1858 spurred Geronimo with even greater ferocity to seek revenge against the Mexicans. By exhibiting great courage, skill and determination, Geronimo assumed the leadership of the band of warriors who conducted numerous raids into Mexico over the next few decades. Geronimo's actions turned the border between Arizona and Mexico into an area of turmoil and blood shed. The United States, in order to preserve friendly relations with Mexico, organized the largest and most famous campaign towards his capture, employing some of its greatest military commanders.

The intrigue with Geronimo and his life remained at the forefront of the news for years after the Apache chief was apprehended. Numerous personal accounts of life on the famous campaign to capture Geronimo were published as books and in a wide variety of articles. Geronimo Returning from a Raid into Mexico was used as an illustration for one such article entitled "Border Troubles" written by William M. Edwardy. Published in the August 18, 1888 issue of Harper's Weekly, two years after Geronimo's capture, Edwardy recounted tails of Geronimo and his cohorts and the author's first hand experience of the famous surrender. Remington's oil retells the following passage of the article: "The greatest grievance which he [Geronimo] had against the whites was that General Crook had refused to let him keep the cattle which had been stolen in Mexico on a previous raid. He dwelt upon this at great length, and seemed to think it a great hardship that he was not allowed to keep the cattle after his band had been to the trouble of killing several hundred Mexicans, making a long drive from the interior of Sonora. The time to which Geronimo referred was when he met General Crook in the Sierra Madre Mountains in 1884, and promised to come into San Bernardino ranch at once and surrender. Instead of this he made a raid through Sonora lasting nearly two months, and when he did come in it was with several hundred head of Mexican horses and cattle. It was a picturesque sight when the savage horde came over the mountain pass leading down to San Bernardino, riding at full speed, and driving the stolen horses and cattle before them. They had sent in runners informing General Crook of their coming, but their whooping and yelling could be heard long before they came in sight over the summit of the divide...." ("Border Troubles," Harper's Weekly, August 18, 1888, p. 611)

The success of Remington was his ability to encapsulate in a single image the essence of a story or event. In Geronimo and His Band Returning from a Raid into Mexico, Remington masterfully captures the dramatic moment of the Apache chief, with his yelling cohorts rumbling through the mountain divide leading hundreds of thundering horses. The dramatic visual impact of this image is heighten by the artist's economy of line and keen control of a monochromatic palette. Remington, through his application of detail and vivid contrast of light and dark, creates a central scene composed of the band members and their stolen horses, that is infused with powerful movement. The action of the oncoming hoard is further enhanced by the cursory treatment of the surrounding terrain composed of impressionistic washes of various tones of gray.

Geronimo and His Band Returning from a Raid into Mexico is a quintessential example of Remington's early oils. Through his accute sense of visual reporting and masterful painting technique, Remington created a vision that helped shape the popular imagination of the Old West.