Apart from some talent for caricature and drawing, in his youth Frederic Remington had little in the way of aptitude and even less ambition. Roaming, camping, fishing—this was his idea of living. Mine, too.
Born in Canton, New York into a military family with a pedigree dating back to the 1600’s, Remington got into Yale but left their College of Art after only three semesters. He bounced from job to job, failed to win the approbation of his fiancee’s father and drifted west into the Kansas Territory, where he got involved in get-rich quick schemes that ranged from sheep to saloons.
At last, after winning the hand of of his fiancee, Eva Caton, Remington convinced her to go west with him, but on learning that he owned a piece of a saloon, she went home to New York in a huff of outrage.
But Remington’s first western folly taught him something: caricatures and sketches could evolve into paintings that people would buy, and so he followed Eva back East, enrolled in the Art Students’ League of New York and soon began selling scenes of Western life to Harper’s magazine and other periodicals hungering for stories and images of the “Wild West.” By the mid 1890’s, Remington was America’s premier illustrator of the American West and one of the architects of the enduring myth of the cowboy.
Not content with this, he turned his attention to sculpture and, with the help of Italian immigrants who brought the ancient lost-wax process to the United States, iconic bronzes like The Bronco Buster and The Cheyenne would establish him as one of the nation’s most important sculptors.
One of two bronzes by the artist—the other is The Bronco Buster—that flank the desk in the Oval Office, The Cheyenne is a study in speed and power. All the movement is forward as the Cheyenne brave leans over and into his charging mount. It’s an interesting contrast with The Bronco Buster, which is all vertical and wheeling motion. Taken together, they represent three dimensions in space, and the fourth—time—as Remington strives to apprehend and arrest moments in time and history.