Lot 74
  • 74

FREDERIC REMINGTON | Custer's Last Charge (A Sabre Charge)

600,000 - 800,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Frederic Remington
  • Custer's Last Charge (A Sabre Charge)
  • signed Frederic Remington- (lower right)
  • oil en grisaille on canvas
  • 25 by 35 inches
  • (63.5 by 88.9 cm)
  • Painted circa 1896.


Grand Central Art Galleries, New York
Arthur V. Davis, New York
James Graham & Sons, New York
Mr. and Mrs. L.R. French, Jr., by 1967 (sold: Sotheby's, New York, November 30, 1989, lot 88)
Barbara Guggenheim, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Paine Art Center and Arboretum; Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Williamstown, Massachusetts, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Frederic Remington: A Retrospective Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, August 1967-December 1967, no. 30, illustrated n.p.
Cody, Wyoming, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, The Art of Frederic Remington: An Exhibition Honoring Harold McCracken, May-September 1974, no. 27, illustrated p. 31
Palm Springs, California, Palm Springs Desert Museum, Art of the Old West from the L.R. French, Jr., Collection, February-April 1987, no. 4, p. 15, illustrated


Ainsworth Rand Spofford, ed., The Library of Historic Characters and Famous Events of All Nations and All Ages, vol. 10, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1896, p. 252, halftone illustrated
Harold McCracken, The Frederic Remington Book: A Pictorial History of the West, Garden City, New York, 1966, no. 217, p. 281, illustrated p. 156
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Inventory of American Paintings, Washington, D.C., 1984, n.p.
Peter H. Hassrick and Melissa J. Webster, Frederic Remington: A Catalogue Raisonne of Paintings, Watercolors, and Drawings, vol. II, Cody, Wyoming, 1996, no. 2042, p. 575, illustrated


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes, Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work has been restored but the restoration is quite broad in the sky. These broad restorations can be seen around the edges, in the upper right corner, above the figure with the upheld sabre on the right side, and to the left of the central cavalryman. There are other broad spots of retouching in a few other places. There is only one retouch within the figures, beneath the central charging horse, and some retouching along the bottom edge. It seems that this restorer has taken a very free approach to retouching. Given the lack of condition problems within the figures and foreground, it seems likely that whatever issues need retouching in the sky are minor and can be re-approached to the benefit of the picture.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Frederic Remington’s painting Custer's Last Charge (A Sabre Charge) captures Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, a prominent army official of the American Indian Wars, during the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Custer served as a Union commander in the Civil War but is most remembered for leading the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment into ill-fated combat on June 25, 1876. He was a controversial figure by many accounts and the details of what occurred at the Battle of the Little Bighorn could only be retold by his Indian opponents who survived the bloody conflict. This historical event and the lore surrounding Custer’s monumental defeat by Indian soldiers was interpreted by generations of artists in the century that followed his notorious death. The Battle of the Little Bighorn, with Custer at center stage, even inspired twentieth century American scene painter Thomas Hart Benton, whose 1943 work of the same title belongs to The Albrecht-Kemper Museum in Saint Joseph, Missouri.

The present work illustrates Custer in his final battle near the Little Bighorn River in Montana. Remington chooses to illustrate an early moment in the event when Custer and his men first seized the Indian village. Custer’s sword is raised in the air as he charges a group of Indian soldiers who have yielded his herd of armed horsemen. An alternative title to the present work, A Sabre Charge, is suggestive of the many soldiers’ saber blades that stand vertical across the top of the composition. Characteristic of most narrative works by the artist, Remington obscures details in background, bringing the main object in foreground to sharp focus, a technique that further encourages the legend of Custer’s headship in battle. Like many of his illustration commissions, Custer's Last Charge is executed en grisaille, solely in shades of black and white. Remington as well as other illustrators from the period worked in this color scheme to aid in the process of reproduction. Remington’s grayscale application guaranteed more faithful reproduction in print and offers a romantic impression of the historical event which became popularly referred to as Custer’s Last Charge (James K. Ballinger, Frederic Remington’s Southwest, Phoenix, Arizona, 1992, p. 24).

Custer graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1861 and immediately took rank in the Union army cavalry under Major General George B. McClellan. He ascended to the position of General serving in the Battle of Gettysburg and ultimately led a command against General Robert E. Lee in the final days of the Civil War. After the war, in 1867 Custer was assigned to his first campaign against Cheyenne Indians stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. This return to duty was marked by scandal after he was tried and convicted for abandoning his post and exhibiting cruelty toward his men. He was suspended for a year, though allowed to return to his position in 1868 as the Indian Wars intensified. Custer was called upon to join the efforts in rounding up the remaining Plains Indians for sequester on reservations serving the militia in Kentucky and the Dakota Territory.

Though the battle depicted in the present work would not end in Custer’s favor, the scene is still one of endurance, true to the character Remington was commissioned to paint for the 1896 encyclopedia, The Library of Historic Characters and Famous Events of All Nations and All Ages, a publication which memorialized a cast of important figures throughout history. Custer’s reputation in combat was a fearless one. Very often the first man to advance his opponent, he was known to race into battle many strides ahead of his cavalry, performing what was coined as ‘Custer’s Dash.’ While leading his men he would holler his ‘Michigan yell’ to throw his opponent. Remarkably, he sustained only one injury during his years of combat and the expression ‘Custer’s luck’ was attributed to those that were similarly spared on the battlefield. Alas, Custer’s good fortune would end on Sunday, June 25th, 1876, when Custer and every troop in his infantry were killed by a force led by the Sioux chief Sitting Bull summoned a resistance against the intrusion of U.S. forces on tribal lands, found dead days later when additional militiamen were sent in search of his missing cavalry.

This work is number 02042 in the online catalogue raisonné of the artist's work at remington.centerofthewest.org.