Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Approach of the White Men, 1897
Transparent and opaque watercolor over graphite underdrawing on paper
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
One of Russell’s favorite compositions was a group of mounted Indians atop a high point of ground in the center of a picture, with the broad plains and high country stretching into the distance far behind and below. In this loosely brushed transparent watercolor, all of the riders have painted hides and trade blankets. They also have plain lances, indicating that they probably are not members of a special tribal military society. Russell worked very hard to be as accurate as possible in his depictions, but he was not always entirely successful. Sleeveless shirts, like the one that can be seen on the central figure, were made of blue trade cloth as shown here, but they were not worn by Plains Indians. The warrior on the left has a single-bladed woman’s knife tucked into his belt; a man’s knife would have been the double-bladed “beaver tail” variety. Finally, if Russell intended this group to be a war party on the move, they would have taken off much of what they are wearing and hidden it in a safe place before proceeding on their mission. For this work, Russell employed a lightweight watercolor paper manufactured by the noted English firm J. Whatman. It is handmade wove paper, with a lightly textured surface, and it is among the finest watercolor papers that were then obtainable. Russell employed transparent blue washes in the sky, augmented with touches of opaque Chinese white for highlights. The blue areas visible in the background in front of the distant hills on the left were blotted and rubbed, in order to lighten the color and convey a more transparent cloudlike effect. In the foreground, Russell used broadly washed pools of pale color very effectively, contrasting with darker, more spontaneous brushstrokes to suggest the random irregularities of a rocky outcrop.