Within our current exhibit, Night & Day: Frederic Remington’s Final Decade, visitors will observe how the artist returns to compositions and themes first represented in his illustrations and now reimagined as dynamically painted fine works of art. Remington’s habitual patterns of revision extend to his work in three dimensions as seen in the bronze sculptures on display in the front gallery of the museum.
Remington modeled 22 subjects for bronze casting from 1895 until his death in 1909. When he started, he used the Henry-Bonnard Bronze Co. to sand cast his first 4 bronze subjects. Then sometime in 1900, Remington began his association with Roman Bronze Works, which employed the lost-wax method of casting. In the early stages of this process, a wax replica of the artist’s model is made, during which time a sculptor may work in more detail by tooling or brushing the wax replica with hot wax. Remington enjoyed this process, and spent long hours at the foundry re-touching the wax models.
The artist’s turn from sand-casting to the lost wax process allowed Remington more control over the details and surface of each bronze. To create a lost wax bronze Remington began by developing a master model out of clay. The foundry would then make a plaster mold, and from that mold multiple hollow wax models could be made. Remington could then rework the wax models, adjusting the pliable material before the bronze cast was made. (For a more in-depth outline of the entire process, check out this silent animated video produced by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.)In January 1905 Remington exhibited 9 bronzes at Knoedler & Company’s galleries in New York City. The newest bronze featured in the show was The Rattlesnake, copyrighted just two days after it went on exhibition. Remington’s description of the subject on the copyright application was as follows: “Cowboy on bronco. Rattlesnake on ground ready to attack horse. Horse shying and in a position denoting fright.” According to Riccardo Bertelli, the proprietor of the Roman Bronze Works foundry where it was cast, The Rattlesnake was one of the artist’s favorite works. “Fred was really pleased with it,” Bertelli recalled. “He felt that it fulfilled his desire for faithful realism and fine artistic rendering.” However, 3 years later in 1908, after 11 castings of the first model of The Rattlesnake, Remington substantially reworked the design. He worked for several weeks to improve the symmetry and movement, and he was very pleased with the new version. In a February 8, 1908 diary entry, he wrote, “Worked all day on ‘Rattlesnake’ and think my modeling has greatly improved.” Nearly three inches taller than the first version, with a smaller base, changes to the model included tucking the horse’s forelegs and straightening his rear legs, increasing the tension of the animal, and thrusting the rider forward to be a part of the dramatic sidelong motion. While viewing the two bronzes displayed side by side in the gallery, make note of the alterations of the rider’s gear in the second version of the sculpture, as well as a change in the color of the patina. Only about 20 castings of the larger version were cast during Remington’s lifetime.
Remington’s The Broncho Buster was the first subject the artist cast in bronze. It would prove to be his most popular sculpture with 154 casts sold during the artist’ lifetime. Visitors will notice how the two casts on display of The Broncho Buster vary in detail from changes in size, the position of the rider’s hand and angle of the horse’s head, to the modification from smooth to wooly chaps. Such a complex feature and variety of changes were only possible with the lost wax process. Despite the success of The Broncho Buster, in the last two months of Remington’s life he requested his foundry, Roman Bronze Works, to enlarge the model. Unfortunately, after making his above-mentioned revisions, Remington did not live to see the final casting. After dying from complications of appendicitis, the artist’s widow Eva was left to supervise the casting of the large bronze, now seen on display at the museum.