Charles M. Russell 1864–1926

Unidentified photographer
Platinum print, c. 1914

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Charles M. Russell created paintings and sculptures that romanticized frontier life on the northern plains. Born into a wealthy St. Louis family, Russell eschewed a traditional career and as a teenager became a horse wrangler in Montana. He also pursued his childhood interest in the visual arts by sketching and painting his surroundings. Russell’s depictions of life in Montana earned him the nickname “the Cowboy Artist.”

Even after he stopped going on cattle drives in 1893 to become a full-time artist, he continued to be regarded as an authority on the “Old West,” a period before railroads, reservations, and eastern tourists. Although he earned a national reputation, Russell increasingly felt despondent in his later years, once commenting that his wife Nancy “lives for tomorrow, an’ I live for yesterday.” This portrait shows Russell in his studio, absorbed in his work.