Cowboy as an Indispensable Part of Frederic Remington Paintings

Frederic Remington, the American illustrator, sculptor, and famous painter, lived from 1861 to 1909. His artworks depict the Western United States in the last quarter of the 19th century and are mostly showing images of cowboys, American Indians, horses, and the US Cavalry.

Frederic Remington had horse-riding and other activities with horses “in his blood.” The Remington family had been horsemen long before Frederic was born. One of his great-grandfathers was a saddle maker by trade, and many of his ancestors were involved with wars and horses. Some fought during the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. With such a family history, it is no wonder that horses and cowboys were so often the subjects of Frederic Remington’s art.

In this article, we’ll discuss why it can be said that cowboys were an indispensable part of Frederic Remington’s paintings. We’ll also examine why his depictions of cowboys on horseback differed from other artists before him. And we’ll also look at the sculptor Remington.

From a very young age, the Remington artist was interested in the history and the people of the American West. In his early years, he worked as a magazine correspondent and illustrator and traveled a lot in the American West.

As a lover of horses, he was fascinated by the interaction between a cowboy and his horse. He was also intrigued with the simple and humble life of the cowboys. To him, a cowboy and his horse were one entity – the one could not exist without the other. He combined his hero-worship and the mythologizing of the humble cowboy to get inspiration for his artworks. Thus, you’ll almost always find horses and cowboys in Frederic Remington’s art.

The focal point of his illustrations at the beginning of his career stayed the same in his later career as a painter and sculptor. He always focused on staging figurative images of everyday life in the American West, which mostly entailed cowboys and horses. Nowadays, if an art lover thinks of Frederic Remington’s art, the assumption is usually made that it is a painting or sculpture by Frederic Remington, the cowboy “lover.” 

As explained above, Frederic Remington art revolves greatly around cowboys and their horses. Other American artists before Remington had also painted cowboys on horseback, but Remington was the first American painter who successfully depicted horses in full gallop anatomical correct.

Other artists who depicted cowboys riding in full gallop usually pictured the legs of the horses incorrectly. Artists of that time usually depicted galloping horses with all four legs pointing out. Therefore, horses were preferably depicted in a standing posture. Remington, however, wanted to capture the movement of galloping horses.

An excellent example of Remington’s skill in correctly depicting cowboys on galloping horses is his painting “A Dash for the Timber.” This famous Remington painting was created in 1889 when he was only 28 years old. It shows a group of cowboys riding at full gallop to escape American Indians chasing them on horseback. When you look at this painting, you’ll see the horses as if they were captured in a specific moment, with their leg positions and movement correctly depicted.

Frederic Remington – A Dash for the Timber

The galloping horse, and often a cowboy on the galloping horse, was Remington’s signature subject. Many American Western artists have since copied his unique but correct way of painting galloping horses.

The Sculptor Remington

When you learn more about Remington, the artist, you’ll discover that he also created cowboy sculptures. His sculpture “The Bronco Buster” is made of bronze. It portrays a typical cowboy fighting to stay aboard a rearing, plunging bronco (untrained or partially trained horse). A stirrup (the ring that holds the foot of a rider) is swinging free, and the cowboy has a quirt (short whip) in one hand and a fistful of mane and reins in the other.

This was the first sculpture by Remington and still is his most popular sculpture. The sculpture was created in the summer of 1895. Another famous Remington statute of a cowboy is simply known as “Cowboy” and is one of America’s earliest examples of site-specific statutes. In March 1905, the president of the Fairmount Park Art Association suggested that a cowboy statue be commissioned for the park. 

Remington agreed to create the work but only if he could choose the spot and get a horseman to pose for him on the spot. That was arranged, and the sculpture was installed in 1908. It was Remington’s first and only large sculpture.

Remington Realized that the “traditional” Cowboy Era would Come to an End

In 1895 Remington created “The Fall of the Cowboy.” The painting symbolized the “death” of the American West cowboys due to industrial development. Remington realized that cowboy life was a dying lifestyle. With this painting, he honored all the cowboys of the past and showed his respect for a prominent symbol of freedom that was disappearing.

With “The Fall of the Cowboy,” Remington effectively demonstrated what cowboys were reduced to due to industrialization. Their duties were diminished to opening and closing gates. The two cowboys depicted are at a gate to let them go through a fence – in contrast with the cowboys’ traditional “no-barrier” life. The snow symbolizes “winter” that has arrived for cowboy life. 

But it can also be interpreted more positively. For example, it can illustrate that you might find a “new life” on the other side of the fence when you leave an era.


Frederic Remington will always be associated with his cowboy paintings and sculptures. This is because he “documented” the cowboy lifestyle in the American West in the 19th century. And because he saw a cowboy and his horse as one “unit,” he also took the art of painting galloping horses to a level it had never been.