Old West Painters of Colorado

The old west painters who captured the cowboys, gunfighters and Native Americans of the time, glamorized their subjects to be more romantic than they were.

Every painting, sculpture or dime novel pays homage to every state in the west that early pioneers populated, including Colorado.

In truth, the cowboys were overworked, dirty and fried their skin under the hot sun to mend fences and keep an eye on the rancher’s cattle.

Some heroic feats were performed by these men and women, such as occasional shoot outs with Indians, lassoing runaway cattle or shooting four-legged and sometimes two-legged predators.

E.F. Ward, William Ranney and others put paint to canvas to depict the life of rugged pioneers, Indians and western landscapes.

But of the most famous painters, Charles Russell and Frederic Remington were at the forefront.  They actually traveled out west and rode with cowboys, visited with friendly Native Americans.

These western painters chronicled every aspect of their subject’s lives to get greater respect for the tough and dangerous life in the wild west.

Because of romantic dime novels, sculptures and wild west paintings, the American cowboy became a heroic figure.

Many movies and TV shows of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s portrayed these men as history would like them to have been.

Charles M. Russell was born in St. Louis Missouri, on March 19, 1864.  His interest in the wild west started in childhood, as did his love of art.

Known as “the cowboy artist”, Russell’s famous paintings depicting the wild west are his legacy to the life of the new territory.

Russell photo and paintings courtesy of Time-Life Books

Frederic Remington was born in Canton New York, October 4, 1861.  In college, he found his love for journalism and art.

Like Russell,  he traveled west, was intrigued by the lifestyle and scenery, and started putting paint to canvas and creating beautiful sculptures.

Remington's famous sculpture
Remington’s famous sculpture of a cowboy breaking a wild horse.

Remington photo and sculpture courtesy of Time-Life Books

When talking about old west painters, Remington and Russell are always linked together because of their great love and exceptional depiction of the rugged west.

There were many women from Colorado who also became famous painters of their time. The most notable were Grace Carpenter Hudson and Mary Elizabeth Achey.

Grace Carpenter Hudson studied art at San Francisco’s California School of Design in the 1880s.  She began painting Native Americans, which became her life’s work.

Mary Elizabeth Achey’s early works included a painting of the Colorado mining town “Nevadaville”.  She traveled around the American west from 1860 til she died in 1885.

copy of Hudson and Achey’s paintings courtesy of Time-Life Books

These and many other painters of the old west have their works displayed in museums all over the United States, a tribute to a lifestyle long past.