Sunday, 8 February 2015

A Bad One by Charles Marion Russell

The Painting I have chosen was painted in the 1920 by Charles Russell and is entitled 'a bad one'. Russell was born in st Louis Missouri where he lived for the first 16 years of his life dreaming of the wild west and the cowboys that live there. when he was 16 he moved to Montana to work on a ranch where he fell in love with the state and the lifestyle it offered him. He worked on a ranch in Montana for 11 years working on his art in his free time before retiring in 1883 to be a full time artist. In 1888 he sent the summer with a local group of Native Americans called the Northern Plains Indians whom he greatly admired. Despite achieving the status of internationally known artist by the early 1900's he remained in Montana until his death 26 years later. Since then a museum has been created in his honor and is located in the state of Montana that he loved so much. 

I chose the painting entitled'a bad one' mainly because the title interested me. The Immediate assumption the viewer makes when looking at this piece is that the horse that is rearing is the bad one, this would be unquestioned if the setting was a European one. However the riders behind who are sitting on docile horses are cheering the person in the center of the painting on, evidently applauding his bravery in staying on the horse through its acting out after being spooked. Or alternatively as you can see the rider is wielding a rather unfriendly looking whip which may be because that horse is prone to bad behavior and the onlookers are cheering him on in his attempts to control the horse. I believe the latter to be more likely however the fact the rider chose to use that horse in this particular outing rather than others suggests the western obsession with expressing bravery and/or being able to control the wild, (or attempting to), this i a long standing tradition and in fact even today there are rodeos in some states where misbehaving horses are put into a ring and agitated just enough to make them buck nonstop with a stirrup-less rider on top for the purposes of seeing how long the rider can stay on the horse. 
In the background you can see a small settlement which could be a native american settlement or the cowboy's base, both can hold significant meaning. To say the settlement is native american suggests that Russell believed that native Americans and the European settlers could live peacefully on the same land, on the condition that they aren't integrated. the settlement in the background could be a home/base for the riders. If this were the case the question of 'where are the group going?' is raised as it is evident that their herd are right there, beside the settlement. So surely they cant be herding their cattle or moving them around; it crossed my mind that they could be looking for a stray or a predator but that amount of man power cant be needed for those tasks unless the predator is a bear or something similar, which I doubt since the painting appears to be set on the great planes. I later came to the conclusion that the group are probably surveying the area since if it is their settlement they look to be very new to the area so getting to know the surroundings is a necessity for safety and important in the interests of utilizing the land in the most profitable way possible.

In conclusion this painting shows many different aspects of the cowboy/frontier lifestyle even though it was painted many years after the frontier was considered closed. It is also a romanticized version of the west focusing on the bravery of the cowboys and their determination to domesticate the west.

No comments:

Post a Comment