This work is numbered CR.UNL.517 in the online catalogue raisonné of the artist's work at www.russellraisonne.com.
Charles Marion Russell earned his reputation as "the Cowboy Artist" for his dynamic action pictures, based on his intimate knowledge and appreciation of frontier life, first working as a horse wrangler and then as a cowboy. In 1893, he left this lifestyle behind and turned to art full-time, devoted to documenting scenes of the quickly disappearing cowboy culture and life on the range. "Cowboys have always enjoyed an elevated position in American popular culture, a status due in part to their rebellion against the strictures of polite society, but in real life they were occupants of a lowly rank in the class structure, poorly paid seasonal workers with short careers and utterly insecure prospects for retirement" (ed. Joan Carpenter Triccoli, The Masterworks of Charles M. Russell, 2009, p. 48). In The Tenderfoot, Russell expertly plays on the tension between insiders and outsiders of the American West.
Russell was largely self-taught, drawing inspiration from other artists' work, chiefly Frederic Remington. This is particularly apparent in Russell's 1900 oil The Tenderfoot (Fig 1). Brian Dippie notes, "Despite the added elements, the arrangement of the principal figures, bully and victim, is identical, and while there are some minor changes in the crow-hopping dude, Russell's pistol-toting cowboy has stepped right out of Remington's sketch. This slouching figure, thumb hooked in his belt (Remington stood with hand in pocket) as he casually discharges his revolver at the hapless tenderfoot's feet, is the common denominator in each of Russell's variations. Through repetition he made the subject his own, but the concept was Remington's" (Looking at Russell, 1987, pp. 33-35). In Russell's watercolor, The Tenderfoot, the bully is shown at center whipping the horse from behind causing him to buck and unseat the rookie rider. The surrounding cowboys watch and grin as the tenderfoot is taunted by this hazing ritual.
The Tenderfoot exemplifies Russell's ability to show movement convincingly, which was aided by his development as a sculptor, often using clay and wax models as studies to create light and shadow, figure arrangement and individual poses. The bucking horse was a favorite subject of Russell's, and here he demonstrates his keen understanding of human and animal anatomy in motion. The ground is littered with playing cards, a boot, a liquor bottle and a tomato can, further enhancing Russell's personal vision of the West. Peter H. Hassrick writes, "For a cowboy turned painter, his personal accomplishment of elevating himself and his art from a most unlikely, remote corner of the country to unquestioned national prominence and celebrity was remarkable. To have done so without compromising his innocence, his personal perspectives on the western scene, or his aesthetic vision remains one of the true artistic achievements of American art history" ("Charles Russell: Painter," n.d., p. 110).
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