Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Roman Bronze Works
Buffalo Family, 1921
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
Russell posed the buffalo family in this bronze in a hierarchical and symbolic manner, with the bull standing regally over a cow and her calf, which are lying down. Russell and many of his contemporaries considered the buffalo—or properly, the bison—as more than simply an endangered species worthy of preservation. As an official of the American Bison Society noted in 1908, the animal had become the leading symbol of the history of the American West. Throughout his life Russell expressed similar feelings. “If it had not been for this animal the West would have been the land of starvation for over a hundred years,” he wrote his artist friend Philip Goodwin in 1909. “He fed and made beds for our frontier and it sure looks like we could feed and protect a few hundred of them but it seems there ain’t many that thinks like us.” By 1921, when Russell created the model for this bronze, a number of buffalo herds, managed by the government or private individuals, were scattered over the northern plains. As with many of his bronzes, Russell had made an earlier version of the composition in painted wax and plaster, albeit on a smaller scale, that remained in Nancy Russell’s possession all her life. The bronze version of the composition is slightly different in that the lordly bull is given higher placement over the cow and her calf, making the latter figures seem more vulnerable. The bronze was first exhibited in Los Angeles in 1922, and the retail price then was listed at $225. By the time the bronze was being shown in New York a few years later, the price had risen to $375. It is likely that fewer than eight to ten casts of this work were produced in Charles and Nancy Russell’s lifetimes. The cast displayed here was one of three that remained in Mrs. Russell’s estate at the time of her death.