The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998

Book Reviews

Frederic Remington: A Catalogue Raisonni of Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings. 2
vols. By Peter H. Hassrick and Melissa J. Webster. (Seattle: University of
Washington Press, 1996. Pp. 938, two volumes continuously paginated.
Acknowledgments, prefatory essays, catalogue raisonn6, chronology, exhibi-
tion history, bibliography, photography credits, indexes. ISBN 0-93168-57-
6. $250.oo, cloth in slipcase.)
Poor Frederic Remington. In a day when politicians routinely castigated
ethnic minorities in blatant appeals to voter prejudice, Remington expressed
his youthful bigotry in an 1893 private letter made public in 1929-twenty
years after his death. He singled out no particular ethnic group; he was an
equal opportunity castigator. No doubt he had-and still does have-a lot of
company. Whether written in a fit of pique, candor, or both, the letter is now
used to assail not only the character of the man, but the worth of his artistic
endeavor. Never mind that at the end of his third and final book, John Ermine
of the Yellowstone (1902), Remington took potshots at the white-led industrial-
ization that had robbed his West of the wild and free elements that he had so
deeply cherished. A West Coast reviewer goes so far as to say that Peter
Hassrick has essentially wasted his life pursuing an artist whose antediluvian
politics render him unworthy of consideration as an artist. (Whoever thought
scholarship was a profession devoid of peril?) The most politically correct of
recent college texts on western American history quotes the damning passage
from Remington's 1893 letter, then dismisses him as nothing more than a
"blood-thirsty racist." End of discussion. As Hassrick observes, "perceptions of
Remington, the man and the artist, generally reflect the times in which they
are written. In them are mirrored the historical insight, cultural bias and
political philosophy of the writer as much as the artist" (p. 37). One wonders
if the above-referenced West Coast critic was paying attention at this point. Or
if he even read Hassrick's essay.
Several years ago a late Mark Twain letter was unearthed in which he
voiced strong sympathy for the plight of African Americans, but that single
letter will never relieve Twain of racism charges any more than Remington's
later perspective will ameliorate his earlier view. In some minds it might be
considered odd if any artist or writer (Remington was both) didn't reflect the
attitudes of his own time and place-a notion that is usually foreign to
Marxist historians. In a career that spanned little more than twenty years,
Remington's hell-for-leather action drawings captivated an American public
that elevated him to a status comparable to that of Norman Rockwell in our
own time. Artists who win such broad acceptance seem likely to find their rep-
utations facing continuing challenge long after their demise.
Remington's world was one of soldiers, cowboys, mountain men, prospec-
tors, rangers, and warriors. He frequently depicted them in moments of vio-
lent confrontation. Women were sympathetically if seldom portrayed. One
would never have expected him to produce a "Madonna of the Plains," in the
style of N. C. Wyeth. Essentially, he excluded half the human race from his
palette. Remington, like his admirer in the White House, celebrated the



Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed December 1, 2015.