"Bronzes of the West are America's most unique form of sculpture. As no other land shares the same frontier heritage, no other land could produce a sculpture which breathes the spirit and tells the story of the American West...these bronzes are dramatic representations of the Western migration and settlement, creative expressions of America's natural, cultural, and spiritual heritage." (P.J. Broder, Bronzes of the American West, New York, 1974, p. 13)
Among the most famous of Western brones is Frederic Remington's sixth bronze model, The Cheyenne, a masterful example of the artist's skill at capturing the vitality and action of a horse and rider in mid-stride. Always striving to perfect his craft and push the limitations of the bronze medium, in the present work Remington captures an exceptional balance of movement and form that had not been previously seen in any other sculptors' work. Prior to the creation of The Cheyenne, the animal image had been interpreted as a stationary form and Remington's draftsmanship, inventiveness, and quick and adept mastery of the bronze medium established a new standard for capturing dynamic imagery in a three dimensional format.
In 1878, Remington was one of two students enrolled at the recently formed Yale Art School, along with writer Poultney Bigelow. Following the death of his father in 1880, Remington took his inheritance and left New Haven to explore the West. "To Remington, the West was a delight and an inspiration. During the next few years, he reveled in the phenomenal natural beauties and the excitement of life in the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, Kansas, and the Indian Territory. He felt an insatiable desire to travel to new places and to meet new people. He wanted to experience everything this new and wonderful world offered. Remington tasted every aspect of Western life. He worked as a hired cowboy and as a sheep rancher. He traveled over plains, desert, and mountains with a wagon train and tried prospecting gold. He even joined a military division during the final campaigns against outposts of renegade Sioux, which offered resistance to the dictates of Washington. Remington visited Indian settlements and learned to distinguish various Indian tribes. He followed in the footsteps of the pioneers over the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails." (Bronzes of the American West, pp. 127-28)
The World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 was the last of the nineteenth century's World's Fairs and was a most notable event for its emphasis and celebration of the American cultural contributions of the recent past and anticipation of the new modern age. "In presenting new visual art to mark the 400th anniversary of the Columbus voyage, the organizers of the fair were clearly asserting the arrival of American painting and sculpture on the world scene and signaling the emergence of the young nation from its long dependence on Europe." (E. Broun, Revisiting the White City: American Art at the 1893 World's Fair, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1993, p. 11) In the same year and coinciding with this sense of national pride, the National Sculpture Society was founded, inspiring artists to turn away from their classically trained European predecessors who were depicting grand Neo-Classical and mythological subjects, and to focus inward on native subjects. The early success of sculptor Solon Borglum, whose depictions of cowboys were well received in Paris in the late 1890s, reinforced the popularity that "classical" American subjects could achieve both artistically and commercially and would help to propel Remington's success.
In an interview with Collier's magazine in 1905, Remington recalled the impetus for his early artistic endeavors to capture the West: "Evening overtook me one night in Montana, and I by good luck made the camp-fire of an old wagon freighter who shared his bacon and coffee with me. I was nineteen years of age and he was a very old man. Over the pipes he developed that he was born in Western New York and had gone West at an early age...thence during his long life he had followed the receding frontiers, always further and further West. 'And now,' he said, 'there is no more West. In a few years the railroad will come along the Yellowstone and a poor man can not make a living at all.'I knew the wild riders and the vacant land were about to vanish forever, and the more I considered the subject the bigger the Forever loomed. 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...I saw the living, breathing end of three American centuries of smoke and dust and sweat..." (as quoted Bronzes of the American West, p. 128) Drawing upon these extensive travels, Remington was soon able to gain recognition as an illustrator for publications such as Harper's Weekly and The Century Magazine. The critics and public alike were drawn to the arresting realism of his work and his sculptures would similarly find immediate success.
From his long apprenticeship and early successes as an illustrator, Remington was a skilled draftsman who relied heavily on the close study of his subjects with numerous sketches and the re-working of his compositions, both on canvas and in bronze. Like his contemporary, Thomas Eakins, Remington was also a close study of the rising popularity of a new medium: photography. "Remington learned much from the work of Eadward Muybridge, a photographer who a decade earlier had captured on film the movements of a number of animals, including the horse. Muybridge had outfitted a camera with a special shutter system to enable the recording of stop-action images. His photographs of a galloping horse were the first published which recorded the animal's mid-stride body leaving the ground. His pioneering work, in addition to furthering development of sophisticated camera lenses and high-speed film, had an impact on Remington who was the first artist to depict a galloping horse with its legs folded underneath. Until that time the animal had been portrayed in the unnatural hobbyhorse pose with all four legs extended outward." (M.D. Greenbaum, Icons of the West: Frederic Remington's Sculpture, Ogdensburg, New York, 1996, p. 8)
The Cheyenne, Remington's second model depicting an Indian, was one of the first sculptures conceived for casting exclusively at Roman Bronze Works. Completed and copyrighted in 1901, the bronze was cast with the lost-wax technique which allowed the sculptor to model highly textured surfaces. This tour de force of balance and casting with all four of the horse's hooves off the ground reflect the joint artistic and technical efforts on the part of the sculptor and foundrymen (fig.1). The present model is a marked departure from Remington's prior works and his desire to have all four feet of the horse removed from the base became a test for Roman Bronze Works founder, Ricardo Bertelli. "'I very much want to preserve the effect of the action,' [Remington] penned. Bertelli complied. '[Remington] always wanted to have his horses with all four feet off the ground,' the founder said in an interview, years after The Cheyenne and later bronzes had been cast. The collaboration between the two men on The Cheyenne was their finest. Remington's quest for fluidity and motion and Bertelli's technical skills coalesced in a work that elevated the talents of each. The bronze was Remington's first model to be cast in one piece." (fig. 2) (Icons of the West: Frederic Remington's Sculpture, p. 89)
In 1904, in an attempt to ease the overall casting of the model, Remington re-modeled The Cheyenne. He lowered the position of the figure's shield and made other adjustments to various details on the figure, including the rear fetlock of the horse that became straightened in later castings, as opposed to the early casts in which the fetlocks were naturally bent. As a result, the first eight casts of The Cheyenne, which includes the present example, are the most complex and accurate to Rmeington's intentions in the series. The present cast also maintains the rich brown patina that Remington most desired, as well as exquisite texturing to the surface of the horse, emphasizing the detailed work that went into distinguishing the musculature of the horse and rider (fig. 3). Charles H. Caffin commented in a December 1898 issue of Harper's Weekly that "there is no question of [Remington's] mental picture. It is of the most vivid and assured kind, resulting from a faculty of observation quite extraordinary in its comprehensiveness. What he has seen in his study of horses and their riders he has seen with such completeness that he can record with accuracy an action which passed before his eyes like a flash." (as quoted in M.E. Shapiro and P.H. Hassrick, Frederic Remington: The Masterworks, New York, 1988, p. 192) Nowhere is this aptitude with bronze rendering more notable than in the present work, The Cheyenne, which reveals Remington's un-rivaled knowledge of animal and figural anatomy and musculature as well as a mastery of movement and tension. A feeling of wind moves through the horse's mane and tail, the rider's hair, and even the heavier buffalo blanket hanging to the side. The tension in the horse's neck as it gently leans down and forward emphasizes the speed and stride of the horse. The defiant cry of the rider adds further emotion and tension to the scene, as he leans forward into the stride of the horse together moving quickly across the viewer's field of vision (fig. 4).
In Frederic Remington: The Masterworks, Michael Shapiro writes that "although The Cheyenne is among the finest and most popular of Remington's bronzes, on May 7, 1907, the sculptor destroyed the molds for it and also for the lost wax version of The Scalp because, as he wrote in his diary, 'They had lost all resemblance to my modeling;' both sculptures, however, were cast again, from fresh molds, in 1908 and then posthumously. Far fewer casts of Remington's sculpture, even of the most popular models, were produced during the artist's lifetime than has been realized--as few as twenty-one casts of The Cheyenne..." (Frederic Remington: The Masterworks, p. 199) The Cheyenne remains one of Remington's most popular and sought-after subjects, representing the highest sculptural ability of the artist embodied in a composition that underscores the artist's devotion to his subjects he so revered. Critic Arthur Hoeber wrote that "in Remington's work as a sculptor, just as in his work as an artist, his subjects are the unheralded people of the land and the soil, and not the glamorously publicized personalities...instead, he chose to devote his time and skill to perpetuating the unnamed cowboys, troopers, and Indians." (as quoted in H. McCracken, Frederic Remington: Artist of the Old West, p. 96)