“Christmas Dinner” with Charlie Russell

Highlights from The Russell Auction in Great Falls, Montana.

Christmas Dinner, an 1898 pen-and-ink drawing by Russell, with watercolors added by an unknown artist, went for $140,400. Courtesy C.M. Russell Museum

As might be expected, the strongest sellers at the Russell Auction, held at the C.M. Russell Museum on August 19, were works by the artist himself. Charles Russell’s painting Drifting, an early work from 1889-90 and based on his experiences as a cowboy in Montana, pulled in $643,500. Christmas Dinner, his pen-and-ink drawing of American Indians arriving at a cabin on the holiday fetched $140,400. The drawing begs the question, were they invited or unexpected guests? A decidedly less peaceable image, Cochran Shot the Indian, effectively captured the Old West action that has made Russell so popular over the years. When the hammer fell at $994,500, the watercolor had taken top dollar at the auction. 

Cochran Shot the Indian, a watercolor, was created by Russell based on an actual historical event and appeared as an illustration in the book Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage. It went for $994,500. Courtesy C.M. Russell Museum

For many years I have been a fan of Charles Russell’s illustrations on letters, cards and other correspondence. They often reveal his love of things truly Western as well as his sense of humor. A greeting card, illustrated by him with a stagecoach, went for $40,950 at the Russell auction. Do I Look Like a Piker?, a humorous watercolor, went for $38,025. 

Several of Russell’s contemporaries, who carried the Western Art tradition well into the 20th century, were represented. These included Charles Schreyvogel, whose Indian on Horseback commanded $140,400, and Edgar Paxson, whose portrait of a Cheyenne brave gathered $36,270. Most of the pieces at the auction, however, were by living artists, like Russell Skull Society of Artists’ member Charles Fritz. When Winter Prayers Are Answered, his rendition of two American Indians hunting buffalo in a winter landscape, went for $23,400. Skull Society member R. Tom Gilleon’s Mourning Star, fetched $409,500, the highest price commanded by a living artist at the auction. 

Twenty of the 205 lots offered were pulled because they failed to meet their reserves. These withdrawals included several works by Russell and suggest some sellers may have had unrealistic expectations of the current market. Nevertheless, the annual Russell Auction succeeded this year in bringing in a total of  $3,687,360 plus another $117,527 in an additional “quick draw” auction, with all proceeds from that sale going to benefit the museum. 

Upcoming Auctions

December 3-5, 2021

Premier Firearms Auction #85

Rock Island Auction Co. (Rock Island, IL)

RockIslandAuction.com • 800-238-8022

December 12, 2021

Arms & Armor, Civil War & Militaria
Signature® Auction #6245

Heritage Auctions (Dallas, TX)

HA.com • 877-437-4824

December 14-17, 2021

Collectible Firearms & Militaria

Morphy Auctions (Denver, PA)

MorphyAuctions.com • 877-968-8880

January 21-22, 2021

Friday: Richard Sr. and Daro Flood Family Collection of Art & Ephemera

Saturday: 32nd Annual Mesa Old West
Show & Auction

Brian Lebel’s Old West Events (Mesa, AZ) 

OldWestEvents.com • 480-779-9378

Drifting, one of his earlier paintings, illustrated the life Russell had known as a cowboy on the Montana plains and went for $643,500. Courtesy C.M. Russell Museum

 

R. Tom Gilleon is best known for his paintings of tepees, often illuminated from within by a campfire. His Mourning Star, depicting one such luminescent tepee with a solitary star above it, sold for $409,500. Courtesy C.M. Russell Museum

 

The sole Remington piece at the auction was a 17-inch bas-relief bronze depicting a Cheyenne warrior on horseback. It went for $21,060, nearly twice the expected price. Courtesy C.M. Russell Museum

 

In Do I Look Like a Piker? Charles Russell humorously portrayed himself as a cigar-smoking dude on a camel. The watercolor fetched $38,025, while a greeting card, illustrated with a stagecoach by Russell in 1920, went for $40,950. Courtesy C.M. Russell Museum

 

Charles Schreyvogel painted comparatively few oils, which were extensively reproduced as platinum prints and lithographs. Thus his paintings are very much in demand, like Indian on Horseback, which sold for $140,400 at the Russell. Courtesy C.M. Russell Museum

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