Frederic S. Remington (1861–1909)
A Dash for the Timber, 1889
Oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
Between 1885 and 1888 Remington made a number of trips to the American Southwest, principally to cover the U.S. Cavalry and its pursuit of the Apaches. The stark landscape and dramatic human events he encountered there greatly influenced his artistic development. Remington filled his diaries with observations, made countless field sketches, took many photographs with the latest equipment, and collected numerous artifacts to use in his paintings. While there he also became acquainted with some of the military officers, who in turn assisted the artist with his collecting efforts after he had returned to the East. “I have a big order for a cowboy picture and I want a lot of ’chapperas’—say two or three pieces—and if you will buy them off some of the cowboys and ship them to me by express c.o.d. I will be your slave,” Remington wrote one of the officers in April 1889. “I want old ones—and they should all be different in shape. . . . I have four pairs now and want some more and as soon as I can get them will begin the picture.” The “cowboy picture” Remington was referring to is A Dash for the Timber, which launched his career as a major painter when it was exhibited to critical acclaim at the National Academy later that year. “This work marks an advance on the part of one of the strongest of our younger artists, who is one of the best illustrators we have,” praised a writer in the New York Herald. “The drawing is true and strong, the figures of men and horses are in fine action, tearing along at a full gallop, the sunshine effect is realistic and the color is good.” Indeed, Remington’s skillful delineation of the horses is a particular artistic triumph; they charge toward the viewer with nostrils flaring and every muscle strained to its limits. The headlong motion of horses and riders seems suspended above patches of cool purple and shadowy blue, contrasting with warmer hues of yellow and orange in the surrounding landscape. The overall effect of the painting is truly cinematic, and the action-filled portrayal of the struggle of life on a dangerous frontier anticipates the many western films that were to follow after the turn of the century, when Remington’s western images were already deeply embedded in the popular imagination.