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Frederic Remington

Custer's Last Charge (A Sabre Charge)

Auction Closed

December 11, 04:21 PM GMT


300,000 - 500,000 USD

Lot Details


Frederic Remington

1861 - 1909

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.

This work is number 02042 in the online catalogue raisonné of the artist's work at

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
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
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).

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.