Charles M. Russell: The Women in His Life and Art

Charles Russell painting on book cover
Cover of book about Charles Russell
Charles M. Russell: The Women in His Life and Art | Edited by Joan Carpenter Troccoli | Hardback | 192 pages | Release Date: July 2018 | University of Oklahoma Press | $39.95 | and other online booksellers

An iconic artist’s depictions of Western women are the focus of this illustrated coffee-table book.

“In 1984, Ginger K. Renner’s essay ‘Charlie and the Ladies in His Life’ appeared in Montana: The Magazine of Western History. Renner’s article contained what can be characterized only as a revelation: Russell produced ‘over 300 oils, watercolors, drawings, and models’ in which women are the ‘primary subject.’ ” –Excerpt from Charles M. Russell: The Women in His Life and Art

As any aficionado of Western art knows, Charles Russell’s depictions of the West focused on cowboys, Native Americans, horses and the landscape where they lived. He was, as editor Joan Carpenter Troccoli writes, “the master of men in motion.” His works were typically filled with action and drama. But Russell was clearly influenced by the women in his life, and it showed in his art.

Those women included his grandmother, Lucy Bent Russell; his mother, Mary Mead Russell; and his wife, Nancy. Of Nancy, who managed his business and marketed his works, Russell said, “I could probably have never attempted to soar or reach any height, further than to make a few pictures for my friends. I still love and long for the old west, and everything that goes with it. But I would sacrifice it all for Mrs. Russell.”

Troccoli notes that Russell’s portrayals of Native American women depict them as “full partners in the ongoing sustenance of Native communities.” His ranch women and cowgirls—including bronc riders—show a toughness but also femininity.

The book offers a glimpse of Russell’s life and events that shaped his work. Its 99 color and 14 black and white illustrations are sometimes familiar and sometimes surprising. Work of other artists is interspersed with Russell’s to offer historical content, but most of the book shines the spotlight on the famous artist, as it should. It is Volume 1 in the Frederic G. Renner and Ginger K. Renner Center for Research Series, and is an essential book for fans of Russell’s work.

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