Frederic Remington created iconic images of the Western frontier composed of Native Americans, cavalrymen and cowboys. Nowhere in his oeuvre is the cowboy more celebrated than in his first bronze subject, The Bronco Buster. Originally conceived in 1895, The Bronco Buster, depicting a cowboy breaking in a wild horse, was an immediate success, symbolizing all that was triumphant and heroic of the West.
By the 1890s, Remington was a renowned illustrator, painter and an accomplished writer. Never complacent as an artist, he wanted to expand his repertoire of talent to include something "in the round as well as the flat." In 1894, at the urging of friends and fellow artists, Remington began modeling a rider mounted on a rearing horse. The subject of the cowboy was always a central and important theme to Remington's work. The artist had written in 1895 that "with me, cowboys are what gems and porcelains are to some others." ("Cracker Cowboys of Florida", Harper's Monthly, April 1895, p. 329) Remington's keen observations and unabashed love for the cowboy and his way of life found direct expression in many of his published drawings and paintings. He also maintained an extensive collection of photographs that contained related images of rearing horses and cowboys that he drew upon for developing the intricate modeling found in his sculptures. The Bronco Buster, a subject derived from Remington's cache of works devoted to the rearing horse and rider, reflected the artist's attention to detail combined with the ingenious rendering of a specific action, intense movement and sublime balance.
Having found tremendous success with his early attempts with sculpture, in 1901, Remington made the decision to switch from the sand-casting method used by the Henry Bonnard Foundry to the lost-wax method favored by Roman Bronze Works. In doing so, Remington was able to explore greater artistic freedom in re-modeling his bronze concepts. This creativity would eventually lead to a desire late in life to create a larger version of his first sculptural masterwork.
In 1909, Remington fell stricken to an acute case of appendicitis. Prior to this time he began work on a plaster model for a 32½ inch version of The Bronco Buster. He wrote to Riccardo Bertelli, owner of Roman Bronze Works, "you ought to see the 1½ Broncho Buster. It will make your eyes hang out of your shirt-front...Get ready to retire the small one." The artist would die shortly after, but by order of his widow, production began on Remington's last great achievement. The large version of The Bronco Buster demonstrates a monumental quality while at the same time, embodies the attention to detail and displays the same visual impact of the original model that made Remington so famous in the sculpture field. The tensile strength of the frozen motion captured in this bronze is stunning and underscores Remington's unique ability to render form.
Remington recognized that his legacy as a brilliant artist would be defined by the longevity of his bronze sculptures and in 1895, wrote: "My oils will all get old and watery...my watercolors will fade--but I am to endure in bronze...I am modeling--I find I do well--I am doing a cowboy on a bucking bronco and I am going to rattle down through the ages." (as quoted in P.H. Hassrick, Frederic Remington: The Masterworks, New York, 1988, p. 182)
Nineteen casts of the large version of The Bronco Buster are known to exist.