Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Roman Bronze Works
Bear with the Jug, ca. 1924
Bronze
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
Russell’s interest in portraying bears with anthropomorphic qualities, frequently tinged with humor, derived in part from his contact with Native American culture. The animals figured prominently in Indian folklore, social life, and religion, and the Blackfeet were among the many plains tribes who believed that bears were part human. In addition to certain physical similarities, the animal also acted like a human, standing erect and walking forward, or sitting with its hind feet sticking straight out and its front paws hanging at its side. Blackfoot myths gave bears all the foibles and weaknesses of humans as well. For his part, Russell often treated the bear as a shambling buffoon who provided comic relief, sometimes at the expense of a hapless human. Russell often portrayed a bear, as he does here, as an animal that could drink or dance as well as any man. Here Russell’s small bronze is a clear personification of ursine mischief. The bear, gripping the jug in its front paws, leans awkwardly back in somewhat tipsy fashion, about to tumble over. The figure is modeled fairly loosely, in the manner of some of the artist’s more informal clay models. The bronze version was first exhibited in March 1924 in Los Angeles, and in January 1925 in New York. Although it was often exhibited before and after Russell’s death, there are no records to indicate that many of the bronzes were sold, and indeed Nancy Russell seems not to have cast this work in the years following her husband’s death. The example here on display is one of three casts that were listed in the inventory of Mrs. Russell’s estate following her death.