Meadowlark Gallery: The Artist Biographies

Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926)

Charles Marion Russell was born in Oak Hill, St. Louis, Missouri in 1864 and died in Great Falls, Montana in 1926. He was the foremost Western painter specializing in Indian genre, an illustrator, sculptor, and writer. They knew him as the "cowboy artist." Russell attended Clinton and Oak Hill schools beginning in 1872. A poor student, they sent him to military school in New Jersey for a term in 1879, then was permitted by his well-to-do father to travel to remote Montana to work as a sheepherder. "I did not stay long, but I did not think my employer missed me much. I soon took up with a hunter and trapper named Jake Hoover. This life suited me. I stayed for two years. (In 1881), I struck a cow outfit coming in to receive 1,000 dougies. The boss hired me to night-wrangle horses. I was considered worthless. For eleven years, I sung to the horses and cattle. In 1888, I stayed about six months with the Blood Indians. In the spring of 1889, I went back to the Judith, taking my old place as a wrangler. In the fall of 1891, I received a letter from ‘Pretty Charlie,' a bartender in Great Falls, saying I could make $75.00 a month and grub. When I arrived I was introduced to Mr. G who pulled a contract as long as a stake rope for me to sign. Everything I drew, modeled or painted in a year was to be his. I balked. I put in with a bunch of cowpunchers, a roundup cook and a prize fighter out of a job, and we wintered. Next fall I returned to Great Falls, took up the paint brush and have never ‘sung to them' since." The Outing Magazine, December, 1904. Even when he was "singing" to the stock, "Kid" Russell was sketching and painting, expanding his self-taught talent. Hard-drinking and pleasure-loving, bullnecked and lantern-jawed, he gave his pictures to any friend who wanted one. In 1888 his "Caught In The Act" was published in Harper's Weekly. In 1890, fourteen of his oils were reproduced in New York City. In 1893, saloon keepers were the first Russell collectors. When he married in 1896, his wife became his business manager. By 1904, he was sculpting in bronze. By 1911, his works were selling in New York City for what he called "dead men's prices." In his thousands of pictures, the favorite subject was Indians. At least forty-nine showed the buffalo hunt. Many were of Indian women but white women were rarely shown.

View high resolution images of works by Charles Marion Russell when available.