Celebrated as the artist who shaped popular culture's vision of the Old West, Frederic Remington enjoyed a very successful artistic career which began in illustration. Although Remington's formal art training was scant--three semesters at Yale College School of Art in the late 1870s followed by three months at the Art Students League in 1886--his drawings and paintings are known for their masterful execution. Yet, "whatever academic excellence may be attributed to what he accomplished in paint, ink, clay and bronze, is transcended by its value as a documentary record and contribution to the early history of our great West. His work constitutes one of the most complete pictorializations of that most spectacular phase of the American scene." (H. McCracken, Frederic Remington: Artist of the Old West, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1947, p. 21)
Remington made his first trip out West in the summer of 1881, traveling through Montana, Wyoming, Kansas, the Dakotas 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...He brought the artist's observant eye, an insatiable curiosity, a boundless interest in people and places...He sought out the roughest and most exciting parts of the country, and the roughest and most colorful of the people who gave the country its character." (Frederic Remington: Artist of the Old West, p. 33)
The following year marked the beginning of Remington's career in illustration with a work published in Harper's Weekly. Reminiscing about the start of his career twenty-five years later, the artist recalled his lucky beginning: "Without knowing exactly how to do it, I began to try to record some facts around me, and the more I looked the more the panorama unfolded." (as quoted in Frederic Remington: Artist of the Old West, p. 34) In a desire to experience Western life firsthand, Remington purchased a sheep ranch near Peabody, Kansas, in 1883. This spurred a move to Kansas City in 1884 with his new bride, Eva Caten. However, the couple returned to New York within a year, suffering from poor financial decisions. Still, Remington's love of the West and curiosity to discover its stories was well established, and he continued to make frequent trips to the South and Northwest for artistic inspiration for years to come. In 1886, Remington's first cover illustration was published in the January 9th issue of Harper's Weekly. With this important publicization of his talents, Remington's illustrations were soon sought after by several New York magazines.
The present work was created as an illustration for an article by Noah Brooks in the April 1902 issue of The Century Magazine. In this memoir of his travels entitled "Across the Plains," Brooks describes: "In the heart of the buffalo country the buffaloes were an insufferable nuisance. Vast herds were moving across our trail from south to north, trampling the moist and grassy soil into a black paste, and so polluting the streams and springs that drinking-water was often difiicult to obtain. The vastness of some of these droves was most impressive, in spite of the calamitous ruin they left behind them. As far as the eye could reach, the surface of the earth was a heaving mass of animal life; the ground seemed to be covered with a brown mantle of fur. As we advanced along the trail, the droves would quietly separate to our right and left, leaving a lane along which we traveled with herds on each side of us. From an eminence, looking backward and forward, one could see that we were completely hemmed in before and behind; and the space left for us by the buffalo moved along with us. They never in the least incommoded us by any hostile action; all they asked, apparently, was to be let alone." (The Century Magazine, April 1902, p. 809)
As with all of his most successful illustrative works, Remington's Lane Through the Buffalo Herd not only accurately represents the action of the story but also imbeds the scene with details and movement that allow viewers to experience for themselves the uncertainties and excitements of life in the Old West.