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The Romance Makers, 1918

Charles M. Russell
The Romance Makers, 1918
American, 1864–1926
oil on canvas
23.5 x 35.5 inches (59.69 x 90.17 cm)
Gift of Mr. C. R. Smith

Charles M. Russell’s paintings of the rugged lives of cowboys and Indians provided visual images of the romantic myth of the American West, which James Fenimore Cooper had already made popular in his 1826 Leatherstocking Tales. In this era before Western movies took over much of the visual depiction of adventures in North America, Russell’s paintings and sculpture, together with the work of his fellow artist Frederic Remington, told the stories of heroism and chivalry that established the image of the West as a place where these European chivalric values were part of everyday life.

From 1890 to 1926, Russell explored and interpreted life in the western United States, as the traditional ways of Native Americans broke down before the onslaught of European “civilization.” The painter was caught in a paradoxical situation, for the buyers of his scenes of heroism were the very people whose exploitation of the land was destroying the old life he loved. The “romance makers” in the Snite’s painting are the mountain men, the first Europeans who opened the West to trade by trapping animals for fur and hunting to supply food for the first cattle ranchers.