Charles Russell is one of the few artists who both experienced and artistically documented the drama and innocence of the American West. As the West was settled, his nostalgia for days gone by was expressed in his art, prints and posters of contemporary life on the range.
As a self-taught artist, Russell began drawing and sculpting at an early age. A few weeks before his sixteenth birthday, he left St. Louis and moved to Montana where he worked as a cowboy for eleven years. During those years, he sketched and painted the cowboy life and the wilderness he loved. To cover his expenses, Russell sold his paintings for modest prices to saloons and local establishments, whose proprietors were the first Russell collectors. His first commissioned mural was painted for a saloon in Utica, Montana and was executed with house paints on a pine board.
In 1896 Russell married Nancy Cooper who, as his business manager had a lucrative impact on his artistic career. She convinced him to raise prices and paint full time. By 1911 his art, prints and posters were selling in the East for what Russell referred to as “dead men’s prices”, high figures normally achieved after an artist’s death. After 1919, the Russells spent their winters in Pasadena, California. In Hollywood they befriended western art enthusiasts, many of whom became Russell’s patrons. In October 1926, Charles Russell died in Great Falls, Montana.