After 1900, Remington's painting took on a renewed sense of purpose, including a greater concern with the effects of light and atmosphere, and a return to the nocturnal themes he had touched upon in prior years. Developing in earnest an oeuvre of night pictures, the success of his nocturnes was almost immediate, prompting one early reviewer to commend them as even more successful than his daylight images, and "the real thing, never for a moment of the stage." (P.H. Hassrick, Frederick Remington, The Masterworks, New York, 1988, p. 127)
A few years later, the prominent critic Royal Cortissoz would write in a review of Remington's art at Knoedler's, taking a special notice of his nocturnes stating that the "study of moonlight appears to have reacted upon the very grain of his art, so that all along the line, in drawing, in brush work, in color, in atmosphere, he has achieved greater freedom and breadth." (P.H. Hassrick, p. 149.) Tonalist images, the nocturnes stood in dramatic contrast to his earlier, brilliantly colored canvases. They exhibited a sense of quiet and contemplation, prompting one critic to describe them as "unique nocturnal poems in paint." (source) In these years, Remington reached the peak of his abilities as an artist. With A Reconnaissance, he reduces the scene to its basic elements, presenting a simple and powerful image featuring his "men with the bark on." (source)
Remington depicts a group of three cavalry men in a landscape blanketed in snow. Two of the cavalrymen have dismounted, an officer and a scout, and walked to the crest of the hill, where they survey a more distant wood under a canopy of stars. The scene is illuminated by the light of the moon, which the artist suggests indirectly with the sharply defined shadows of the horses at the center of the composition. The artist also makes effective use of the large, tilted plane of snow as a foil for the silhouettes of the figures.
In discussing the subject of this work, one art historian notes that "the hours after dark quite often proved the most opportune time for the cavalry to track its elusive enemy, the Indian to night, nature is on their side. The full moon lights their way and the fresh snow has muffled their approaching footsteps. But what they seek and what they see must be left to the viewer's imagination." (P.H. Hassrick, Frederick Remington, New York, 1973, p. 145.)
While noting that A Reconnaissance is a fairly early nocturne by the artist, Peter Hassrick emphasizes that "even so, he has masterfully captured the feeling of the ghostly landscape frozen in silence and the bluish moonlight. One can almost feel the chill breeze which flutters at the horses tails and lifts the cape of the mounted soldier." (p. 145). As with many of Remington's best paintings of his later years, the seeming simplicity of the composition is one of its strongest assets.
"Big art is the process of elimination," Remington remarked just a year after he painted A Reconaissance, "cut down and out--do your hardest work outside the picture, and let your audience take away something to think about - to imagine." (L. Ayers, et al, American Paintings, Selections from the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1986, p. 68).
Remington copyrighted A Reconnaissance in 1902, and may have exhibited it as A Reconnaissance in the Moonlight at the Noe Art Galleries in 1904. The following year, in 1905, Collier's published the painting in its renowned series of images of Remington's art, adding the following caption: "A cavalry officer with his white scout viewing hostile Indian country by moonlight from the protection of trees." As one observer wryly notes, "apparently someone other than Remington wrote the accompanying lines, for the Indians, rather than the soldiers seem to be taking advantage of the forest's guardian cloak." (American Paintings, Selections from the Amon Carter Museum, p. 145).
At the time of his unexpected early death at 1909 at the age of 48, Frederick Remington may have been the most popular artist in America. Certainly he was the artist whose work the public most closely associated with the West. For two decades he had captured in paint and bronze the Wild West of the American imagination--the west of the Indian, the cowboy, and the cavalry.
Had Remington lived, Peter Hassrick suggests a direction where Remington's art might have taken him: "It is probably safe to conclude that, had he lived longer, these three truths would have continued at the heart of his expression. Light and mystery and mankind would have continued to flow forth from his facile brush and uncommon genius." (Hassrick, 1988, p. 167).
Oil on canvas
Please note the frame for this lot is a black, ebonized frame, c. 1900, on loan from Eli Wilner & Company, Inc., NYC. This frame is available for purchase. Please inquire with the department.
Signed and dated 'Frederic Remington 1902' and indistinctly inscribed 'Copyright' (lower right)
New York, The Union League Club, Paintings by Contemporary Americans, January 1903, no. 37 (possibly)
New York, No Art Galleries, Special Exhibition of Recent Paintings by Frederic Remington, April 1903, no. 2 (possibly)
New York, The American Art Galleries, The Collier Collection: An Important Collection of Original Drawings and Paintings by Distinguished American Painters and Illustrators, Works Especially Executed for and Exclusively Reproduced in Collier's Weekly, November 1905, no. 11
Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum, Inaugural Exhibition, 1961
College Station, Texas, Texas A & M University, Exhibition of Works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, November-December 1962
Corpus Christi, Texas, Art Museum of South Texas, Exhibition of Works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, September-October 1963
Roswell, New Mexico, Roswell Museum and Art Center, Exhibition of Works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, October-November 1963
Staunton, Virginia, Mary Baldwin College, Exhibition of Works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, May-June 1964
Salt Lake City, Utah, University of Utah, Exhibition of Works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, November 1964 (This exhibition also traveled to Portland, Oregon, Portland Art Museum, January-February 1965; Palo Alto, California, Stanford University Art Gallery and Museum, March-April 1965)
Mobile, Alabama, The Mobile Art Gallery, Art of the Old West, March-April 1974, illustrated (This exhibition also traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, Birmingham Museum of Art, April-June 1974)
Corpus Christi, Texas, Art Museum of South Texas, Exhibition of Works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, October-December 1974
Coral Gables, Florida, Lowe Art Museum, The Passing of the Great West, October-November 1975
Littleton, Colorado, Western Heritage Art Fair, July 1978
Worcester, Massachusetts, Worcester Art Museum, West Comes East: Frontier Painting and Sculpture from the Amon Carter Museum,
Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum, The Popular West: American Illustrators, 1900-1940, April-May 1980
27 x 40 in. (68.6 x 101.6 cm.)
Collier's Weekly, April 8, 1905, pp. 18-19
H. McCracken, Frederic Remington: Artist of the Old West, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1947
P.H. Hassrick, Frederic Remington: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture in the Amon Carter and Sid Richardson Foundation Collections, New York, 1973, pp. 144-5, illustrated
H. and P. Samuels, Frederic Remington: A Biography, Garden City, New York, 1982, p. 340
S. Craze, Frederic Remington, London, England, 1989, pp. 38-9, illustrated
J.K. Ballinger, Frederic Remington, New York, 1989, pp. 98, 102-3, illustrated
H. and P. Samuels, Frederic Remington: The Complete Prints, New York, 1990, pp. 94, 97, 150, 158, illustrated
R. Stewart, Frederic Remington: Masterpieces from the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1992
Frederic Remington Paintings and Sculpture, New Jersey, 1993, no. 25, illustrated
P.H. Hassrick and M.J. Webster, Frederic Remington: A Catalogue Raisonn of Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings, Vols. I & II, Cody, Wyoming, 1996, no. 2692, pp. 15, 766, illustrated
Remington: The Years of Critical Acclaim, 1998, pp. 28-9, illustrated
Collier's Weekly, New York.
David B. Findlay Galleries, New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1952.