Editor’s Letter | The West in Bronze

A landmark sculpture exhibition comes to Denver

By Kristin Hoerth

The Cheyenne (1901) by Frederic Remington. Denver Art Museum, Funds from William D. Hewit Charitable Annuity Trust.

The Cheyenne (1901) by Frederic Remington. Denver Art Museum, Funds from William D. Hewit Charitable Annuity Trust.

This story was featured in the May 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art May 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!

When the Denver Art Museum opens The American West in Bronze, 1850-1925, on May 11, it will mark a major milestone in western art. Never before has such a comprehensive exhibition of western bronzes been mounted. “The western bronze statuette was eagerly collected by the urban populace at the turn of the 20th century,” says Thomas Brent Smith, director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum and co-curator of the exhibition. “Remarkably, there has never been a full-scale exhibition on this rich and complex topic.”

The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (where it was on view from December through April) in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum. After closing in Denver on August 31, it travels to the Nanjing Museum in Nanjing, China, from September 29 through January 18, 2015. The show comprises a remarkable 72 bronzes by 28 artists, including multiple pieces by such well-known names as Solon Borglum, Cyrus Dallin, Alexander Phimister Proctor, Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, and Charles Schreyvogel. Pieces are on loan from major institutions such as the Amon Carter Museum, the Autry National Center of the American West, and the Gilcrease Museum.

Many of the artists are internationally recognized for their bronzes, while others pursued western subjects infrequently, such as Frederick William MacMonnies and Paul Manship. A powerful sculpture by James Earle Fraser, END OF THE TRAIL, is included as well; a monumental plaster version of the piece, which shows an exhausted Indian brave slumped over his equally exhausted horse, is a focal point in the atrium at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Also included are two castings of THE BRONCHO BUSTER, Remington’s iconic sculpture of a cowboy resolutely taming a wild horse. It was the artist’s first and most popular sculpture, with more than 275 authorized statuettes produced.

“The development of the American fine-arts bronze-casting industry around 1850 enabled three-dimensional expression of complex issues of the era—Euro-American settlement, American Indian relocation, and the wanton destruction of bison and other wildlife—in statuettes of outstanding quality and technical sophistication,” writes Thomas P. Campbell, director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in his foreword to the exhibition catalog. The show explores these issues in four major sections: American Indians, wildlife, cowboys, and settlers. The accompanying publication features essays on the same themes by well-respected scholars of western American art including Brian W. Dippie and Peter Hassrick.

Featured in the May 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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