Thursday, August 25, 2016

Remington, Russell and ... Reaugh?



For lovers of Western art, Remington and Russell are like family.  In his scant 48 years, Frederic Remington (1861-1909) cranked out enough illustrations, easel paintings and sculptures that today almost any museum can boast a Remington.   Charles Russell (1864-1926) is only a little less famous.  Also widely collected by museums, he created over 2,000 works of art.  Both artists staged stories in their works, choosing for their stars cowboys and Native Americans while casting horse and cattle as minor players.  The landscape was always just a painted backdrop.

But there's a third "R" in the history of Western art, and that is Frank Reaugh.  Reaugh (1860-1945) was a contemporary of the other two.  The "Dean of Texas Painters," as he is called, is little known outside the state except to aficionados who make a study of these things.  A new full-length biography, however, aims to change all that.

Rounded Up in Glory:  Frank Reaugh, Texas Renaissance Man (University of North Texas Press) by Michael Grauer is a meticulously-researched biography.  Grauer is well-positioned to write this book.  He is the Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Art of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas, which houses the largest public collection of the artist's works.  In this comprehensive book, the author elevates Reaugh to his rightful place in Western art history.

Reaugh (pronounced "Ray") was a different artist from Remington and Russell.  Unlike them, he painted mostly cattle and landscapes; men were often incidental to the pictures, mere drivers of the massive herd.  Most often, the cattle drive, now a thing of legend, was the subject.   Reaugh said:  "Remington in the '90s painted the Indian and his pony.  He knew little about cows, and was principally interested in the cowboy as a wild man.  Russell painted the cowboys of the Northwest."  Grauer expounds further:  "Reaugh recognized the monopoly he had on such an important history of the American West.  He endeavored to become a history painter of a rapidly vanishing way of life in much the same way as George Catlin had hoped to become the 'history painter of the American aborigine' fifty years before."

Reaugh spent much of his early life on cattle drives, sketching when he could.  As a mature artist, he frequently led sketching trips across the Texas panhandle and into bordering states along those very same routes.  But he did more than that.  A man with a broad vision who had attended the Académie Julian in Paris, shown at two World's Fairs (Chicago and St. Louis), and created over 7,000 works in his lifetime, he was a prime mover in art education, guiding many young artists to careers.  A resident of Dallas, Reaugh founded the Dallas Association of Art, which eventually became the Dallas Museum of Art.  Many artists saw benefit from this organization under his leadership.

Toward the end of his life, Reaugh badly wanted to create a foundation that would house his body of work and also include classroom and studio space, thus perpetuating his legacy as a painter and teacher.  Unfortunately, this was not to be.  In Dallas in the 1940s, the administrators who controlled funding for the arts took up the flag of Modernism and abandoned traditional painters like Reaugh.  At his death, he ended up giving his collection to the University of Texas in Austin.  Most of his paintings finally found their way to the museum in Canyon where Grauer is curator.  Today, Reaugh's status is rising.  In 2015, a world auction record was set for the artist when a 20x40 pastel sold for $435,000.

I found much of the book resonated with me as an outdoor painter and pastelist.  I learned that Reaugh worked mostly with pastel outdoors for the same reason that many of us do; it is an immediate, tactile and uncomplicated medium.  Reaugh even went so far as to concoct a recipe, now lost, for his own line of pastels, which he made and sold.  An inventor, he also created a folding field easel, which he patented, along with a half-dozen various devices for internal combustion engines.  (Click here to see the patent application for his easel.)  This speaks to another love of his—automobiles—which also manifested itself in the cars that he outfitted for his sketching trips to make them more suitable for carrying painters and their gear.  The sketching trips were also a joy to read, as they are written up in detail and drawn from the journals of the participants.

I travel through Texas once a year, on my way west to Arizona where I spend winters.  I've passed through the small town of Canyon, where the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is located, but only on my way to Palo Duro Canyon, one of Reaugh's favorite painting locations.  (Grauer:  "Reaugh probably painted Palo Duro Canyon more than any artist before 1945.")  Thanks to this new book, I am planning to stop at the museum on a future trip to be awed by his work in person.

Rounded Up in Glory:  Frank Reaugh, Texas Renaissance Man by Michael Grauer (University of North Texas Press, $39.95 cloth, $31.96 e-book.)  480 pages with 20 color and 20 black-and-white illustrations.  To order:  www.untpress.unt.edu

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