Lot 54
  • 54

Frederic Remington 1861 - 1909

Estimate
1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
Sold
1,085,000 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • Frederic Remington
  • Call the Doctor
  • signed FREDERIC REMINGTON (lower left)
  • oil on canvas

Provenance

George F. Harding, Chicago, Illinois
George F. Harding Museum, Chicago, Illinois, 1939 (bequeathed from the above)
The Art Institute of Chicago, 1982 (transferred from the above)

Exhibited

New York, The American Art Galleries, American Art Association, Collection of Paintings, Drawings and Water-Colors by Frederic Remington, A.N.A., January 1893 (as A Critical Case) (possibly)
Chicago, Illinois, The Art Institute of Chicago, Window on the West: Chicago and the Art of the New Frontier, June-October 2003, no. 75, illustrated in color p. 83

Literature

Peter W. Hassrick and Melissa J. Webster, Frederic Remington: A Catalogue Raisonné, Cody, Wyoming, 1996, vol. I, no. 421, p. 168, illustrated, pl. 31, p. 266, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

During his lifetime, Frederic Remington earned a reputation as an artist and illustrator whose acute observations flawlessly captured the independent and brave spirit of the men fighting to stake their claim in the wilds of the American West. In 1882 after briefly attending the Yale School of Art, Remington launched his artistic career with the sale of a drawing to Harper’s Weekly. Remington quickly succeeded in the profession of artist-correspondent, becoming a staff writer with the publication in 1885. He traveled widely throughout the country on assignment, spending most of his time sketching the people and places in the new American frontier. Remington’s superb technical ability and penchant for storytelling made him an adept and productive illustrator. Consequently, the images he produced for various publications, of which Call the Doctor is likely one, conjured thrilling depictions of daily life on the frontier for a growing audience of Americans fascinated by the rough-and-tumble life beyond the Mississippi.

Between January 1890 and December 1891, Remington published eleven stories in Harper’s, all but one of which focused on the unfolding exploits of the United States Army in the West. Remington was a lifelong devotee of American military life. He grew up doting on his father’s adventures as a decorated cavalry officer in the Civil War, and relished the opportunity to associate with martial activities both at home and abroad, although he never formally joined their ranks. Between the conclusion of the Civil War and 1898, the United States fought over 900 battles involving Native American tribes in its quest to secure new territory. Remington prided himself on his role in recording such events as Geronimo’s campaign and the closing days of the Northern Plains Indian Wars, especially their tragic finale at Wounded Knee in 1890. He also witnessed and chronicled much of the action in Cuba during the Spanish American War, finding in all of these endeavors, he once proclaimed, an inherent heroism in witnessing men doing “the greatest thing which men are called on to do.”

By 1889, Remington worked for several major American publications including Century Magazine, Harper’s Weekly and Monthly, and Scribner’s, and his work there earned him both widespread critical and popular acclaim: “The cavalryman, the Indian, the scout, the miner, and the ranchman,” wrote one reviewer, “have furnished Frederic Remington with subjects that he illustrates with much vigor of line and striking effect…In his pictures of life on the plains, and of Indian fighting, he has almost created a new field of illustration, so fresh and novel are his characterizations; and the hot, sandy plains, with soldiers marching doggedly under the burning sun, the vast prairies with the cowboys in lovely watch over their herds…are realized as they have never been before” (William A. Coffin in Scribner’s, March 1882).

Executed with vivid contrasting hues and a remarkable attention to naturalistic detail, Call the Doctor is a stunning example of the early style that earned Remington his reputation as one of the country’s greatest illustrators. The painting seizes on a moment of dramatic action, when a heroic party of American soldiers must confront the extent of their wounded comrade’s injuries in the midst of a remote and unfamiliar locale. The battle with an unseen enemy rages behind them: while the men call for medical assistance, their comrades lie flush with the ground with their weapons poised, ready for an inevitable confrontation. Both the palette and composition brilliantly suggest the vastness of both earth and sky found in the untamed environment of the West, as the canvas is dominated by large planes of brilliant and contrasting color. The slightly elevated horizon line compresses the space into the foreground, signifying a sense of the physical expanse of the environment.

While the artist’s later paintings display a much freer palette and a more impressionistic handling of paint, the subjects of Call the Doctor are carefully defined with precise brushwork and minute detail. This style typifies Remington’s early work as it allowed the artist to not only center the focus of the composition on the dramatic action of the foreground, but also to convince his viewers of the veracity of his scenes: the meticulous details he included imbued each scene with the sense of energy and freshness typically achieved through firsthand observation.

This highly narrative approach of Call the Doctor—another hallmark of the artist’s early work—showcases Remington's unmatched talents as storyteller. Although the work’s central activity surrounds the plight of the wounded man, the standing figure calling for assistance hints at the presence of more activity occurring outside the picture plane. More soldiers continue to engage the enemy in the background, indicating that the battle rages on in the distance. As Remington seamlessly includes several narrative arcs, Call the Doctor epitomizes the full extent of Remington’s narrative skill, exemplifying his ability to encapsulate the subtle details of a complex story or historical event into a single, compelling image.

Remington’s romantic vision of the West, vividly described in works such as Call the Doctor, portrays the life of the old West that he popularized over the course of his career. His images display a humble reverence for the strength and character of the soldiers fighting to tame the Wild West, men marked by courage, tenacity and independence. This characterization has become ingrained in American culture, enduring today as an integral part of the public imagination. In effect, Remington created “…a grand theater for the testing of manhood. It was a throwback to pioneering days, the molding of the national character and the setting for a great drama. The winning of the West was his theme, and he never outgrew it” (Brian W. Dippie, Remington and Russell: The Sid Richardson Collection, Austin, Texas, 114, p. 3).
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