Frederic S. Remington (1861–1909)
The Old Stage-Coach of the Plains, 1901
Oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
As the twentieth century began, Remington found himself very busy with commissions from several magazines. One of these was to illustrate a three-part series by Emerson Hough titled “The Settlement of the West: A Study in Transportation,” for The Century Magazine. Echoing the popular beliefs of the period, Hough approached his subject with a general nostalgia for what he termed the “glorious drama” of the history of the West. One of the illustrations Remington produced was taken from the evocative painting seen here; it appeared as a color plate in the January 1902 issue of the magazine, to accompany the second installment of Hough’s epic story. The author described the great days of stagecoach travel, including the two-thousand mile run from Atchison, Kansas to Helena, Montana, which taxed even the most hardy travelers. Hough also noted that the stagecoaches sometimes fell prey to robbers or hostile Indians, so there was always the possibility of danger. The need for vigilance seems to be the subject of Remington’s painting, which shows a stagecoach traveling in a nocturnal landscape. Sitting atop the coach and silhouetted against the starlit sky is a watchful figure holding a rifle. The whole work is loosely painted with shadowy hues that occasionally are marked with glimmering highlights of color. Just a few years earlier, in 1899, Remington had seen an exhibition of nocturnal scenes by the California artist Charles Rollo Peters at the Union League Club. Inspired by that exhibition, Remington began to experiment with a more narrow and muted color range in some of his paintings, including The Old Stage Coach of the Plains. Gradually, as he does here, Remington began to eliminate detail from his works in favor of a more general mood and atmosphere. In this painting, the viewer senses a feeling of tension and foreboding, evoked not only by the artist’s use of subject matter, but also color and form.