The Fall of the Boy

frederic-remingtonFrederic Remington – “Fall of the Boy“, 1895 (oil on canvas),  Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

American painter, illustrator, sculptor, and writer, Frederic Sackrider Remington  was born in Canton, New York, on 4 October 4, 1861. He specialised in replicating the last quarter of the 19th-Century American West, including images of cowboys, American Indians, and the U. S. Cavalry within his artistic works.

  • His father was a colonel in the Civil War; whose family arrived in America from England in 1637.
  • His maternal family (the Bascom line) was of French Basque ancestry, coming to America in the early 1600s and founding Windsor, Connecticut.
  • He was also related to General George Washington, America’s first president.

The family moved to Ogdensburg, New York when Remington was eleven and he attended Vermont Episcopal Institute, a church-run military school. It was here that he took his first drawing lessons.

Remington later attended the art school at Yale University, leaving  in 1879 to attend to his ailing father who was suffering from and later succumbed to tuberculosis.  It was during this time that he secured a good paying clerical job in Albany, New York and Remington would return home on weekends to see his girlfriend Eva Caten whom he later married; although they suffered from recurring relationship problems throughout their married life.

At nineteen, he made his first trip west, going to Montana where he saw the vast prairies, the quickly shrinking buffalo herds, cattle, and the last major confrontations of U.S. Cavalry and native American tribes. These became inspirations for his artwork.

  • From that first trip, Harper’s Weekly published Remington’s first commercial effort, a re-drawing of a quick sketch on wrapping paper that he had mailed back home.
  • He made a gentleman’s agreement with Harper’s Weekly, giving the magazine an informal first option on his output but maintaining his independence to sell elsewhere if desired. As a bonus, the magazine launched a massive promotional campaign, stating that “He draws what he knows, and he knows what he draws.
  • His first full page cover under his own name appeared in Harper’s Weekly on January 9, 1886, when he was twenty-five.
  • With financial backing from his Uncle Bill, Remington was able to pursue his art career and support his wife Eva.

His status as the new trendsetter in Western art was solidified in 1889 when he won a second-class medal at the Paris Exposition.

Remington’s regular attendance at celebrity banquets and stag dinners fostered prodigious eating and drinking which caused his girth to expand alarmingly. Obesity became a constant problem for him.

In 1890, Remington and his wife Eva moved to New Rochelle, New York in order to have both more living space and extensive studio facilities, and also with the hope of gaining more exercise. But the financial panic of 1907 caused a slow down in his sales and Remington tried to sell his home to get further away from urbanization. One night he made a bonfire in his yard and burned dozens of his oil paintings which had been used for magazine illustration making an emphatic statement that he was done with illustration forever. He wrote, “There is nothing left but my landscape studies.

Near the end of his life, he moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut. In his final two years, he was veering more heavily towards Impressionism, and he regretted that he was studio bound due to his declining health. Remington died after an emergency appendectomy led to peritonitis on December 26, 1909. His extreme obesity (weighing approx. 300 pounds) had complicated the anesthesia and the surgery, and chronic appendicitis was cited in the post-mortem examination as an underlying factor in his death. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Canton, New York.

With “The Fall of the Boy” it is obvious that Remington “Draws what he knows, and he knows what he draws.

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