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Charles Marion Russell

 (1864 - 1926)
Charles Marion Russell was active/lived in Montana, California, Missouri.  Charles Russell is known for Indian-frontier genre painting, sculpture.

Charles Marion Russell

    RUS-sel   speaker-click to hear pronunciation  click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Charles Marion Russell
Born in St. Louis, Charles Russell became a legendary painter and sculptor of frontier activities of the American West.  Unlike his well-known counterpart, Frederic Remington, he preferred to paint the Indian and the Cowboys rather than the cavalry men.

He was fascinated with western life from an early age when he had heard stories of Indian fighting about his great uncle, Will Bent. Russell's earliest paintings were of war bonneted Indians on horseback.  Not interested in school, he left home for Helena, Montana, at the suggestion of his father, who paid his son's way after the youth turned 16. The father thought that rough and tough realities of the West would shake romantic notions of it out of the boy's head.  But instead, Russell fell totally in love with the environment.

He got a job as a night wrangler, and had the days free for observation and painting. He spent seven years working at cowboy jobs and carried his watercolors in his bedroll and also made clay models of wildlife. He did numerous profiles paintings, and sold his early works among the cowboys for five and ten dollars each.

In 1887, he turned down a chance to study in Rome to spend the winter with the Blood Indians in Canada.  He became very sensitive to the plight of Indians and respectful of their ways.

In 1888, Harper's Weekly published one of his cowboy paintings, and he spent that winter among the Blackfeet Indians of Alberta.  He studied their language and ceremonies, and the Chief tried unsuccessfully to get Russell to take an Indian wife. In 1890, a folio of fourteen of his paintings was published, and that same year, he did a mural of ranch life scenes for the iron door of the bank in Lewiston, Montana.

But it was not until fall, 1896, that he pursued art as a serious career.  That year he married Nancy Cooper, and devoting her life to furthering his career, she persuaded him to set up a studio and do commissions.  She became his business manager, and much of his career success is due to her marketing and business skills.

In succeeding years, his popularity as an illustrator increased, amazing success considering that he had had only three formal drawing lessons.  His paintings of men and wild animals, pitted against tough life in the West, also sold widely to Hollywood celebrities, oil rich collectors, a numerous others who liked reminders of the "wild west."  In the early 1900s, Russell and his wife visited Yellowstone National Park, and he later did illustrations reflecting that visit including the book, Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage by Carrie Strahorn.  He regarded the Park as a haven for wild animals, and strongly opposed the idea of anyone killing them for hunting pleasure.  Apparently Russell only visited the Park once, in 1902, but in 1915, Nancy Russell came back to the Park by herself and set up an exhibition of her husband's work, which was well received.

He traveled frequently throughout the West, and his Arizona painting Navajo Trackers is thought to be his last completed work.  He died of heart failure in Great Falls, Montana on October 24, 1926, but during the last seven years of his life, he spent his winters in Pasadena, California.

Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
Docent files, Phoenix Art Museum
Peter Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone
James Ballinger, Visitors to Arizona 1846-1980

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Charles Marion Russell
"My Years With Charles Russell," by Joe De Yong

While I could always draw well enough as a kid to take the ability for granted, I had no particular idea of ever becoming an artist. In fact, handling young hosses and "follerin after cattle" were my main interests in life! And I wasn't looking for anything better. Until just before my nineteenth birthday, a definite trick of fate in the form of cerebro-menengitis, which left totally deaf turned me to painting and modeling just to kill time.

Having been an admirer of the work of Charles Russell the cowboy artist of Montana ever since I was ten years old, I wrote to him for some pointers on methods and materials in modeling. To which I received one of his now-famous, illustrated letters in reply. From then on further encouragement by his kindly interest as expressed in a second letter I was hell-bent to go to Montana, a move that eventually led to my spending ten unbelievable years in Russell's studio. Not only did I work with him, but we often rode together and sometimes camped together in the high mountains and the unfenced Indian Reservations where I got to see his country and his people through his eyes.

Of course, there was a lot about those priceless years that I in my carefree, almost kid-like, way pretty much took for granted. Until... one beautiful, fall day, when the frost had turned the aspens to yellow and gold, he simply set out on his high-lonesome and, traveling slow and steady, - as was his way rode out of sight over the skyline. Always far better mounted as he was, I'd often found it hard to stay in sight of his dust (in art and in life!) so that, even though I steadily dogged his tracks, I could never catch up with him again. And while he wasn't the sort to just ride off and leave a friend on his own, that way, I finally realized that he was crowding a deadlinewith the end of his trail timed and measured. And now that I a good eight years older than he was at that never-to-be-forgotten time find myself following a steeper and steeper trail. I sometimes look forward to what may lie ahead beyond that high pass that is said to cut a notch in those snow-capped mountains that lie straight ahead. Will the colors of the far-country be as bright? Will the range still be unfenced, and none of the old trails plowed-under? Will the same old friends gather together at night? Sometimes, I can't help but wonder!

Joe De Yong Hollywood, California July 28, 1963
(submitted by

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Charles Marion Russell
Considered by many to be the premier artist of the American West, Charles Russell was no armchair cowboy.  Born into a wealthy St. Louis family on March 19, 1864, he had his imagination piqued by stories his grandmother, Lucy Bent Russell, told about her brothers, the Bent Boys, who were famous frontier adventurers.  Instead of going to school, Charlie would play hooky and hang around the docks of the thriving Mississippi, visiting with pioneers who were heading West.  His parents even sent him to New Jersey to a military school in the hopes of "shaping him up"but his dream was only intensified.

Russell was a masterful painter, and each of his paintings told a great story.  Even the titles of the paintings told what the story depicted was about.  On September 9, 1896 he married Nancy Cooper, and they moved to Great Falls.  She was fourteen years his junior; she was a strong-willed woman and encouraged him to write short stories.  She demanded such high prices she earned the name "Nancy the Robber".  She became his business manager and slowly but carefully built up his reputation and stopped his practice of giving away his art.  Russell began to sell his paintings at good prices and together he and Nancy began to enjoy the rewards of fame. He died in Great Falls, Montana on October 24, 1926 of a heart attack.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Talking Pictures by Joan Stauffer in Art and Antiques Magazine (Date unknown)
From the internet,

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Oak Hill, MO in 1864. Russell left home as a teenager to work as a cowhand in Montana. Self-taught, by 1892 he was working as a painter full time. During the last seven years of his life he wintered in Pasadena, CA at his home, "Trail's End." Russell is internationally known for his western subjects. He died in Great Falls, MT on Oct. 24, 1926. In: Amon Carter Museum (Fort Worth); Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley); Nat'l Cowboy Hall of Fame; Gilcrease Inst; many others.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Artists of the American West (Samuels); Art News, 10-30-1926 (obituary).

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery
Born Charles Marion Russell in the town of Oak Hill near St. Louis, Missouri, Charlie dreamed of being a cowboy almost from the beginning of his life. As a child he listened to stories told by his grandmother, Lucy Bent Russell, of the adventures of her brothers, the Bent Boys, who were famous frontier adventurers. He also spent a great deal of time down at the docks along the Mississippi River listening for stories from the explorers and fur traders that passed through town. Russell's childhood was the beginning of an intense interest in art. He was forever drawing and making small figurines out of any materials he could find. Impressed with the skill of this small boy, a family friend gave Charlie a slice of beeswax. From that day on he was known to carry wax which he would pull out of his pocket and create small models for his friends.

The Russell's were a prominent family in the St. Louis area. Charlie's great grandfather had been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Missouri Territory. His father was the wealthy owner of Oak Hill Firebrick and Tile Works and had hopes for his son to take over the family business one day. Charlie was bent on discovering his own version of the "wild west" and had no interest in the business of his father or even in his school studies. When he was fourteen he ran away to the wilds of Montana, but was returned home. In the hope that boarding school would change their son's mind, the family sent him to a military school in New Jersey where he lasted only a semester.

Finally his parents realized there was to be no dissuading their son from following his dream, and they sent him to a friend's ranch in the Judith Basin of Montana to spend the summer. This was a few days before Charlie's 18th birthday in 1880. He remained in Montana for the next 46 years.

An important part of his introduction to the West was the year and a half he spent with an experienced hunter named Jake Hoover, who taught him the habits of animals and the secrets of nature in the wild. Russell then worked for cattle ranches for several years as a night herder. That left him time to paint the colorful activities of life on the ranch in the daytime. In February of 1887 the course of Russell's artistic career made a sharp upward turn. After a particularly hard winter a friend of Charlie's was trying to describe the condition of the herd to his boss in a letter. To illustrate, Charlie did a small drawing of a half-frozen steer surrounded by wolves. He called it, "Waiting for Chinook." The ranch owner in Helena, Montana showed the drawing to several of his friends and acquaintances and eventually commissions started rolling in. His first national exposure came from one of his sketches appearing in Harper's Weekly in 1888.

Throughout his life Charlie had a reputation for being a friendly generous person. He often gave his artwork away to his friends and had no concept that it could earn him a living. In 1896 he married Nancy Cooper and within the year they moved to Great Falls with the idea it would be a good place to market Charlie's work. They didn't find people interested in cowboy and Indian paintings, so they began to look for commissions back east. Nancy was an excellent business manager of her husband's art and very soon they were making a very good living from his paintings.

All of Charlie's years as a cowboy enabled him to realistically tell the legends of the West. He was an admirer of the Native Americans and their way of life. In the winter of 1888-1889 he lived with the Blood Indians in Canada. By 1892 Russell was a full-time painter. He had the remarkable ability to recreate on canvas his memories of dress and minute detail of things such as beading patterns on moccasins. In 1911 he had a one-person exhibition in the Folsom Gallery in New York. He once sold a painting to the Prince of Wales which now hangs in the Buckingham Palace. Selling for $10,000 it was the most anyone had ever paid for the work of a living American artist. In 1925 he was honored by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. with a special exhibition.

Besides being a painter Russell was the author of many stories and books including the Rawhide Rawlins Stories and Trails Plowed Under. In 1989 he cast his first bronzes at the Roman Bronze Works foundry in New York. His sculptures are considered by some to be better than his paintings. Many of his cast bronzes are in museums throughout the world. He was the first "western" artist that actually lived most of his life in the West.

In 1920 Charlie's health began to weaken. The Russells now spent their winters in Pasadena to escape the cold in Montana. Charlie died of a heart attack on October 24, 1926 at age 62. On the day of his funeral all the children were released from school in Great Falls to watch the funeral procession. Considered the premier artist of the American West by many, Russell's works may be found in many collections including the C.M. Russell Museum, The Montana Historical Society, Amon Carter Museum, Gilcrease Institute and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His mural entitled, "Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians" hangs in the Montana State Capitol Building in Helena.

1. C.M. Russell Museum
2. The Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West, by Peggy and Harold Samuels
3. Who's Who in American Art, by Peter Falk

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery
CHARLES M. RUSSELL (1864-1926)

Charles Marion Russell was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on March 19, 1864. He was the son of a prominent family that had holdings in coal mines and brick manufacturing. Although Russell was raised with the intention of running the family business, he instead developed colorful ambitions toward becoming a cowboy. As a boy, he was a proficient rider and he adopted the ways and manners of his western heroes. His other great ambition was to paint. He was constantly sketching in his schoolbooks and his principal subjects were cowboys and Indians.

In 1880, Russell set out for Montana. He arrived in Helena and took a job as a sheep herder. After a short time, he befriended Jake Hoover, a trapper and hunter, and spent two years with Hoover in the Judith Basin. All the time he continued his painting, spending long hours sketching the wild animals he observed in his daily life. Two years after moving to Montana he hired out as a cowboy, to keep watch on horses, and later as a "night hawk" to watch the cattle at night. Russell was constantly sketching during his off hours and was slowly developing a local reputation as an artist. In 1888, Russell had his first national exposure when one of his sketches appeared in Harper's Weekly, his first paid illustration.

Russell's years as a cowboy were to be very important in his art. His firsthand experiences and his intimate knowledge of the cowboy's tools and ways were to produce the distinctive realism that is characteristic of his style. He portrayed actual events and people in his paintings. Many legends and stories of the West that he often used in his works were originally heard by Russell in evening discussions and camp talk during his years as a cowboy. Russell was also a fervent admirer of the American Indian and often portrayed them as heroic figures struggling to preserve their way of life. In the winter of 1888-89, Russell lived with the primitive Blood Indians in Canada.

By 1892, Russell was a full-time painter. His works were popular in Montana and he was occasionally publishing an illustration for a book or story in a magazine. He was, by nature, a friendly and convivial person. Having no concept of earning his living as a painter, Russell would usually give his sketches and paintings to friends and, at times, would paint a commission for the local saloon in exchange for his bar debts. Although he was becoming famous, he was realizing very little financial gain. On September 9, 1896, he married Nancy Cooper and moved to Great Falls. Nancy immediately became Russell's business manager. She slowly and carefully built up Russell's reputation and stopped his practice of giving away his art. Russell began to sell his paintings at good prices and together, he and Nancy began to enjoy the rewards of fame.

In 1898, Russell cast his first bronzes at the Roman Bronze Works foundry in New York. They were small items but sold well. In 1899, he published Pen Sketches, a collection of prints of cowboy life. These were quickly successful and reprinted in several editions.

By 1903, Russell had a national reputation. He built a log-cabin studio in Great Falls that he stocked with a large collection of artifacts and memorabilia of his cowboy days. In the winter of 1903, he and Nancy went to New York top promote his first eastern art exhibition. On the way, they stopped in St. Louis, where Russell had several paintings in the Louisiana Purchase International Exposition. The New York trip was a failure as they did not sell any paintings. The next year, Nancy persuaded Russell to try again and they returned to New York. They sold several paintings and were able to get Russell's small bronzes established at Tiffany. In addition, Russell became swamped with orders for illustrations.

In 1909, Russell exhibited at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, and in 1911, Russell had his first important one-man show in New York, at the Folsom Gallery. That same year, he was commissioned by the State of Montana to do a mural for the Montana House of Representatives, Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians. In 1914, he had a successful show at the Dore Galleries in London. By 1915, he was a complete success, getting large prices for his paintings and selling all that he could produce. Success, however, did not change Russell's character or charm. He was still the friendly cowboy and he could not understand why people paid so much money for his work.

In 1920, Russell's health began to weaken. He and Nancy would spend winters in California to avoid the rigors of the Montana climate. After several years of poor health, Charles M. Russell died of a heart attack on October 24, 1926, at the age of 62.

Biography from Nedra Matteucci Galleries
CHARLES M. RUSSELL (1864 - 1926)

Charles Marion Russell was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on March 19, 1864. His family planned for him to enter the prosperous family business, but even as a youngster Russell's thoughts and dreams were about the American West. His parents sent him to Burlington Military Academy in New Jersey, but after a year, the school gave up on Russell, and Russell gave up on school. Going west was in Russell's mind. His parents realized that he would never be satisfied until he went, so for his sixteenth birthday he was given a trip west. In the company of Pike Miller, Russell boarded a Union Pacific train and headed for the Miller Ranch in Montana.

Tending sheep was not the kind of life Russell had imagined for himself in the West. However, in the spring of 1881, he signed up with the Judith Ranch, where he stayed for eleven years learning the cowboy's life. He continued to paint and draw. Besides depicting life on the range, he also became enthralled with Indian life. For a while, he lived with the Blood tribe in Canada, a branch of the Blackfoot Nation. There he witnessed in depth ceremonies and traditions of a fascinating people.

In 1893, Russell moved to Great Falls, Montana. A diverse group of people in these communities became the first collectors of Russell paintings since Russell often gave away his work in payment of bar bills and personal debts. It wasn't until his marriage in 1896 that Russell became internationally known. Nancy Cooper was young, much younger than Russell, but she had the determination and drive to make Charles Russell famous. She encouraged him to devote most of his time to painting, and she tirelessly promoted his works through publishers and art galleries.

The bronze sculptures of Charles Russell offer an intimate view of the world of this famous artist. They reflect the character of the artist more closely than any Western bronzes created before his time. A study of these bronzes provides an excellent key to Russell's philosophy and ideals. His philosophy is far more in harmony with that of mid-twentieth century conservationists than with that of the frontier spirit of the nineteenth century. Indeed, Russell mourned the end of the wilderness and its wanton destruction of animal life. Nancy Russell later wrote of her husband, "Charley was here to see the change. He did not like the new, so he started to record the old in ink, paint, and clay. He liked the old ways best. He was a child of the West before wire or rail spanned it; now, civilization choked him."

When Charles Russell died at the age of 62 in 1926, he was internationally recognized as the foremost artist of the American West. He had witnessed and recorded, through painting, sculptures, and drawings, a passing way of life.

Biography from Thomas Minckler Fine Art
This biography submitted by Thomas Minckler Gallery.

Charles Marion Russell

Charlie Russell was born March 19, 1864 in Oak Hill Missouri, an event that was to be nationally recognized a century later by a commemorative U.S. postage stamp in his honor. The Russell family was one of great prominence in what is now St. Louis. His great grandfather had been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Missouri Territory.

Russell was not a good student and his parents tried in vain to discipline him by sending him to a military school in New Jersey. After one semester they gave up and that was the end of his formal education. His parents allowed him to spend a summer at a family friend's ranch in Judith Basin, Montana. This was in 1880, a few days before his 16th birthday. He fell in love with this hunter's paradise and it would be his home for the next 46 years.

While a night herder for 11 years, Russell had his days free to paint and sketch. The rest of the crew would be working the herd, branding, or breaking horses, so there was never ending inspiration for the emerging "Cowboy Artist." His first (and largest up to that time) oil painting exhibited outside Montana, was shown at the St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall Association art show in 1886.

His first paintings to be reproduced in a Montana newspaper were in the Helena Journal in July 1891, but with no mention of the artist's name. In 1893 he gave up life as a cowboy and returned to St. Louis for a visit. While there he was commissioned by a Montana ranch owner to do several paintings. He returned to Cascade to fill the commission. He began to make a living as an artist from that point.

In 1896, Russell married Nancy Cooper, 14 years his junior. She was a strong willed woman and encouraged her husband to write short stories. She demanded such high prices she earned the name "Nancy the Robber."

Charles Marion Russell was one of the few artists to enjoy fame and wealth in his lifetime, especially having no formal art education. He died on October 24, 1926, in Great Falls where he is buried today.

Biography from The Coeur d'Alene Art Auction
Biography photo for Charles Marion Russell
Charles M. Russell was born on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri. At the age of 14, he ran away to the wilds of Montana. He was returned to his family; but they soon realized the futility of thwarting young Charlie's desires and allowed him to return to Montana the following year.

Russell worked a wide variety of jobs in the Montana Territory; hunter, trapper, and cowboy. He became thoroughly familiar with the ways of the West by living those ways. He was a friend of the Indian people and lived with the Blackfeet tribe in Canada for a time. He learned their language and this experience shows in many of his drawings and paintings.

Russell along with Frederic Remington are considered to be the two greatest exponents of Western cowboy and Indian art. Both were born in the same decade, were largely self-taught, and were drawn to the frontier at an early age. Russell had to struggle to gain recognition, but once he achieved it, he enjoyed the rewards of a long and fruitful career.

In the early days, Russell frequently gave away paintings to friends, left them on bunkhouse walls or kept them for himself. After marriage, however, his wife Nancy marketed his work throughout the United States and Canada, and within a few years he commanded prices well up into the thousands.

Major collections of his work are in the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana; The Montana Historical Society, Helena; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; Gilcrease Institute, Tulsa, Oklahoma; and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, V
Biography photo for Charles Marion Russell
Charles Russell is often grouped with Charles Schreyvogel and Frederic Remington as one of the greatest artists of the American West, but his work derives from a somewhat different set of circumstances. Russell, like so many of the character whom he painted, was an artist who learned about the West from the inside out, living the life he depicted.

Born in St. Louis, he journeyed to Montana in 1880 to begin work on a ranch in the Judith Basin. Soon after, he met a trapper and mountain man and spent a formative period with him on the upper South Fork of the Judith River. In 1882, Russell signed on as a night herder in a cow outfit, which was the first in a succession of such jobs, and he began to carefully observe the wranglers he would subsequently portray in his paintings. He gloried in the activities of the great spring roundups and overland drives into the rail heads, when some of the most famous cowboys in the Northwest were on hand.

Russell honed his abilities as an artist, making sketches, small sculptures and larger paints of the events and people he witness, and he soon developed a reputation as a master storyteller. In 1888, Russell rode into Canada and spent a period of time living with the Blood Indians, a branch of the Blackfoot tribe. From this experience he developed a broad knowledge of the Indian way of life, as well as a profound sense of respect for it.

ReSources include: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, Dr. Rick Stewart,Hawthorne Publishing Company, 1986

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Santa Monica
Charles Russell was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1864. At an early age Russell left home to
quench his thirst for knowledge of the American west. He worked various ranching jobs, and
sketched in his free time. He's remembered as a self-taught artist who lived the life that he painted.
Following his marriage in 1896 he was able to successfully market his works to a clientele still
fascinated by his wild-west narrative. During the last years of his life Russell wintered in Pasadena,
California. He died in Great Falls, Montana, in 1926.

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About  Charles Marion Russell

Born:  1864 - St. Louis, Missouri
Died:   1926 - Great Falls, Montana
Known for:  Indian-frontier genre painting, sculpture

Essays referring to
Charles Marion Russell

Western Artists