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Remington Metamorphosis

July 2024
1min read

Brian W. Dippie, author of the study of Frederic Remington in our April issue, has sent us a fascinating story about the genesis of a Remington painting:
Perhaps you might be interested in a few comments on the oil chosen for the cover. I toyed with introducing this very painting in my text both to amplify the drift of my argument about Remington’s use of personal experience as a means to larger ends—the presentation of his vision of the Wild West—and to provide another angle of his racial attitudes. Simply put, the group of cavalrymen you isolated on your cover is directly based on a field sketch Remington made in 1888 of some Negro troopers he rode with in Arizona. It appeared above the caption “A Camp-lire Sketch” in his article “A Scout with the Buffalo-soldiers” ( Century , March, 1889). The only major compositional change in the oil A Cavalryman’s Breakfast is the figure of the scout, though even it is anticipated in the field sketch. The great difference, of course, is that when Remington worked the sketch up into a full-blown oil, he made his Negro troopers white. Thus the painting serves as a reminder of just how consciously wrought Remington’s image of the Wild West actually was: he rejected and selected the various elements that eventually added up to the real West in the public’s mind. Remington rode on patrol with black troopers, and his article about the experience shows him to have been detached but properly respectful toward them. He always judged things by a martial standard, and his comments on the “buffalo-soldiers” speak for themselves: “As to their bravery, I am often asked, ‘Will they fight?’ That is easily answered. They have fought many, many times.” Nevertheless they would have no part to play in the West of his mature paintings and sculpture, lor Remington’s West would always be the last bastion of white masculine Americanism. Thus no black troopers appear in any of Remington’s famous action scenes, and one consequence is that until recently they formed no part of the popular image of the Indian-fighting army.

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