Hearing stories of his father's exploits as a decorated cavalry officer in the Civil War, Frederic Remington spent his childhood in upstate New York as a devotee of American military life. He never joined the armed forces himself, but prided himself on his work as an artist-correspondent during Arizona's Geronimo campaign at the end of the Northern Plains Indian Wars in the mid-1880s through to the tragic finale at Wounded Knee in 1890. During his travels he heard stories from the veterans of the many clashes between the Indians and Army that started soon after the Civil War, several of which he witnessed himself.
As a budding young painter, writer, sculptor and illustrator, he sought several avenues for achieving professional success and almost all of them dealt with martial subjects. Between January 1890 and December 1891, for example, Remington authored eleven stories in Harper's Weekly, all but one of which focused on exploits of or insight into the unfolding history of the American military.
Remington copyrighted his second sculptural endeavor, The Wounded Bunkie, on July 9, 1896 just nine months after the completion of his first bronze, The Bronco Buster. In the artist's copyright statement, he described the work as "Two horses in full gallop, side by side. Each horse carries a cavalry man, one of whom has been wounded and is supported in his saddle and kept from falling by arm of the other trooper" (Library of Congress, copyright, July 19, 1896). Unlike The Bronco Buster which depicts pure physical action, The Wounded Bunkie depicts the aftermath of an ambush, as the soldier and his wounded companion swiftly retreat from the threat pursuing them. During these campaigns, soldiers usually only carried one blanket, and at night, two men would pool their blankets, one for the ground and one for cover. The term "bunkie" was thus used to describe one's best friend and bunk mate.
The Wounded Bunkie is compositionally more sophisticated than its predecessor, The Bronco Buster. Although the horse rearing on his two hind legs in The Bronco Buster demonstrates great energy and technical finesse, the fact that The Wounded Bunkie is supported in its entirety on only two of the horses' eight legs represents an even more daring departure from the conventional sculptural postures of Remington's contemporaries. Rather than the splayed leg look of the hobbyhorse that was traditionally used for horses in motion, Remington incorporated the poses photographer Edward Muybridge captured in his 1880s stop-action photographic studies of running. Remington's galloping horses masterfully convey a sense of movement, as their hooves hang in the air, ready to take their next step. The officer on the far side jerks back, recoiling from a gunshot, a sign of the desperate need for the horses' swift retreat from danger. The uninjured officer turns to look back at the enemy while extending his arm to support his friend. Michael Shapiro writes: "Confronted by the direct gaze of one cavalryman and the silhouetted head of the other, the viewer is drawn to contrast the position of the human heads with the poses of the horses' heads. The effect of the overlapping forms is cinematic, as if the event were unfolding before our eyes" (Frederic Remington: The Masterworks, 1988, p. 192).
Remington often borrowed motifs from earlier works and in The Wounded Bunkie one can see both a re-interpretation of the old as well as a source for future works. In his painting A Dash For The Timber of 1889, a mortally-wounded rider is supported by the horseman to his left as they both charge forward at a full gallop. Later, the artist duplicated the position of the rear legs of one of the horses in The Wounded Bunkie, further developing it through the lost-wax process in The Cheyenne. Remington continued to appropriate and modify elements from his prior work, but always successfully infused new life into whatever he chose to re-interpret.
According to Remington's own ledger of 1907 there are fourteen casts of The Wounded Bunkie, at least seven of which are now in museum collections. Remington produced only two additional subjects (The Scalp and The Wicked Pony), using the sand-cast process with the Henry Bonnard Foundry. Around 1900, he affiliated himself with Roman Bronze Works and began to work in the lost-wax method which was becoming more popular in America due to its European resurgence. The Wounded Bunkie is unique in that it is the only one of his four Bonnard bronzes which was not reissued by Roman Bronze Works, and none of these later lost-wax works are considered to have as clean a line or as rich a soft-brown patina as this commanding sand-cast group.
Bronze, reddish-brown patina
Height: 20 in. (50.8 cm)
Bruce Wear, The Bronze World of Frederic Remington, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1966, pp. 58-9, illustration of another example
Harold McCracken, The Frederic Remington Book: A Pictorial History of the West, Garden City, New York, 1966, no. 363, p. 257, illustration of another example
Peter H. Hassrick, Frederic Remington: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture in the Amon Carter Museum and the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Collections, New York, 1973, no. 80, p. 186, illustration of another example
Patricia Janis Broder, Bronzes of the American West, New York, 1974, pp. 34, 360, pl. 456, illustration of another example
Michael Edward Shapiro, Cast and Recast: The Sculpture of Frederic Remington, Washington, D.C., 1981, pp. 43, 46, 117, illustration of another example fig. 24
Michael Edward Shapiro, Bronze Casting and American Sculpture 1850-1900, Newark, New Jersey, 1985, p. 136, illustration of another example
Michael Edward Shapiro and Peter Hassrick, Frederic Remington: The Masterworks, New York, 1988, pp. 190-2, 195, 199, 206, 215, 221, illustration of another example pp. 10-11, 180
Michael D. Greenbaum, Icons of the West: Frederic Remington's Sculpture, Ogdensburg, New York, 1996, pp. 65-69, 205, illustrations of other examples pp. 65-69
Private Collection, Lexington, Kentucky
Findlay Gallery, Chicago, Illinois
Private Collection, Chicago, Illinois
Gerald Peters, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1984