LOT 309

Charles M. Russell


The Broken Rope

MEDIUM: Oil on canvas

DIMENSIONS: 24 1/8 x 36 1/4 inches

ESTIMATE: $5,000,000.00 - $7,000,000.00

Signed and dated 1904 lower left with skull

SHIPPING DIMENSIONS: 34 x 45 x 3.5 inches

Additional Information

The artist
Collection of Benjamin B. Thayer, Anaconda, MT, ca. 1904
David B. Findlay Galleries, New York, NY, 1950
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX, 1950
Geral Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
Private collection, Colorado ca 1999

Charles M. Russell, Frederic G. Renner, Harry N. Abrams Inc. / Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, TX, 1976: p. 109.
The Masterworks of Charles M. Russell: A Retrospective of Paintings and Sculpture, Joan Carpenter Troccoli, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 2009: p. 26.
The American Cowboy, Lonn Taylor and Ingrid Marr, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1983: p. 104.
The Book of Horses, Fred Urquhart, Secker and Warburg, England; William Morrow & Company, New York, NY, 1981.
The Cowboy, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, WY, May 1-September 30, 1975
Masters of Western Art, Angelo State University, San Angelo, TX, June 16-29, 1977
Western Heritage Art Fair, Littleton, CO, August 5-7, 1977
Charles Russell Exhibition, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, CO, June-August 1980
The American Cowboy, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., January 15-December 15, 1983
C.M. Russell: Artist of the American West, Museum of Our National Heritage, Lexington, MA, April-October, 1984
Charles M. Russell: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX, January 11-March 10, 1985
To be included in a forthcoming book entitled Following Russell Trails

Fort Worth Art Association Gallery, Fort Worth, TX, 1950
Days on the Range: Artists of the American West, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, February 3-March 5, 1972
Cowboys, Indians, Trappers and Traders, Amherst College, Mead Art Building, Amherst, MA, February 1-28, 1973

Known as the Cowboy Artist, Charles M. Russell earned that nickname through grit and determination from 1882 to 1893, during which time he worked as a cowboy in Montana’s Judith Basin and later in Missouri. It was during a stint riding for the N Bar N brand when Russell received an important early commission that lured him away from cowboying—and his specialty, night herding—to become a professional artist. By then, the nickname of the Cowboy Artist had stuck.

That 11-year period of riding and roping on horseback is what makes Russell’s work so authentic to the Western canon. Having experienced it firsthand, he understood how cowboys operated: where they put their hands and their feet, how they moved and carried themselves, how the horses would react to cattle and different kinds of terrain, and what scenarios were most risky to a cowboy. In the oil painting The Broken Rope, completed in 1904, Russell captured the danger and drama of being a cowboy like only a real cowpuncher could. Showing a collision between cow and cowboy, the 24-by-36-inch work was produced during one of the most active and important periods of the artist’s career. The painting is considered one of Russell’s masterworks, with an exhibition history to prove it. In an essay titled “Poetry and Motion in the Art of Charles M. Russell” in The Masterworks of Charles M. Russell: A Retrospective of Paintings and Sculpture, Joan Carpenter Troccoli, identifies the work as an important milestone in the artist’s career: “The Broken Rope represents one of Russell’s notable periodic advances in technical skill and confidence…”

The painting is likely a loose continuation of events that appear in earlier paintings Mad Cow and When Cowboys Get in Trouble (The Mad Cow), both of which show a charging cow but with all riders still in their saddles. The “mad cow” part of Broken Rope is likely a reference to something Russell saw during his cowboy days: when a mother cow would lose its calf, either to wolves or natural causes, it would go “mad” without a calf to relieve the pressure of milk in its udders. These animals would often charge and create problems for the cattle wranglers. Broken Rope tells a similar story, but the composition is unique to the other “mad cow” paintings, which might be the result of his visit to New York City earlier in 1904. During that fateful trip, Russell would inquire with John Marchand and other accomplished artists about creating more dynamic compositions. It’s possible they gave him some tips that manifested in this painting, including the arroyo that funnels the eyes of the viewer into the action and the still-falling hat that shows the action in the scene is still unresolved. Another little detail in the work is the rider’s worn-out and patched pants, which hint at Russell’s Blackfeet nickname, Ah-Wa-Cous. The artist was prone to wearing patched pants, which was noticed by his Indian friends, who began to call him the Blackfeet word for antelope, due to the light patch of cloth on his hindquarters.

The image appears in Frederic G. Renner’s 1976 book on the artist, titled simply Charles M. Russell. “Many authorities feel that Russell’s greatest work was done between 1902 and 1916, the period of this fine action painting. At this time the artist was painting the scenes that he loved best and that delighted his most critical audience, his cowboy friends. To them, every detail in the painting, from the brand on the horse to the ring in the tail of the angry cow, helped tell the story. If they couldn’t name the cowboy to the right they could spot him for a Texan from his tapaderos. These stirrup coverings of heavy cowhide were used to protect the rider's feet in the southern brush country, but were not used by Montana cowboys in the early days. The angora chaps, which the cowboys called ‘woolies’ were strictly ‘Montana,’ however. These were a real comfort in the winter or during the crisp days of the fall roundup,” Renner writes. “Russell’s admirers have always claimed ‘he was the only artist who could paint a horse with all four feet in the air and make’im look natural,’ a point well demonstrated in The Broken Rope.”


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Please note that the first unframed photo is most accurate for color. Framed photographs are to show the frame and are not color corrected to the painting.

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