The Work of Charles M. Russell

art by Charles Russell

Understanding the art by Charles Russell

Charles M. Russell, one of the most famous artists in the American West, created paintings and bronze works of art which are familiar pieces to millions of people and very prized by collectors. Overall, Russell created more than 2,000 paintings of cowboys, Indians and landscapes that are specific to the Western United States, in addition to bronze sculptures that he is most famous for.

Russell’s art pieces have been extremely influential to American Western painters and sculptors. His distinctive and unique way with words has made a strong impact and influence on entertainers and political commentators. However, despite his fame and influence, Russell only recently became the subject of a major retrospective exhibition. In recent years, outstanding curators and scholars have produced exhibitions, books, and essays focused on various aspects of Russell’s work.

Famous Russell Works

Russell’s work comprised a variety of topics, from major historical events to the Native Americans to everyday life in Western America. To the core, each piece of Russell’s work focused on “the natural” yet not equating his work completely to the wilderness. However, aspects of the wilderness, fundamental human needs and drives, were absolutely relevant in all of Russell’s work.

One of Russell’s murals, entitled Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians, hangs in the state capitol building in Helena, Montana. Russell also depicted famous historical events including The Custer Fight, 1903, depicts the Battle of the Little Bighorn from the view point of the Native Americans. He also created pieces featuring the Indians discovering Lewis and Clark. Russell’s 1918 painting Piegans sold for $5.6 million dollars at a 2005 auction.

While Russell is well known for many of his pieces, he has equally received some criticism. His portrayal of women in his work has drawn critiques and assessment from historians who study women in the West.

The Value and Identification of Russell’s Art

Many museums do not appraise Charles Russell’s work but in order to even get an accurate appraisal of your work, you should take it to a specialist, someone who lives and breathes the value of art. If you have one of those pieces of art, it was most likely sold by a major gallery or an auction house.

Many organizations, including the C. M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana and its partnership with the Russell Center at the University of Oklahoma, are working to collect all information possible for all of Russell’s known oil and watercolor paintings, illustrated letters, pen and ink drawings, and original models.

What is extremely important is that you understand the difference between an original bronze by Russell and a recreation. The foundry mark of Russell’s work is cast into the base of the art and is usually on the vertical edge at the back. Another tried and true indication of an authentic piece of Russell’s work versus a recreation is that Russell’s bronze sculptures were never set on marble bases. A lot of the reproductions have been set on marble bases.

Additionally, there has been a fine biography of Russell and a complete catalogue of Russell’s paintings and watercolors was published in October 2007. As a leading Sarasota art dealer and an antique dealer buying bronzes, we are happy to take a look at bronze sculptures that you may have for appraisal and value. We buy antique bronzes of all variety and we buy antique sculptures. If you want to know the value of your sculptures, bring them in for appraisal and we can tell you all about the sculpture that you have.

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