69.8 cm x 57.2 cm (27 1/2 in. x 22 1/2 in.)
Charles Marion Russell
(St. Louis, Missouri, 1864 - 1926, Great Falls, Montana)
North America, American
Medium and Support:
Oil on canvas
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Gift of C.R. Smith, 1976
Charles Russell’s name is synonymous with a dynamic artistic chronicle of the American West, and his lively canvases call to mind popular images of “cowboys and Indians.” But in his later years, Russell often painted to express his anger and regret about the rapid change that had overtaken the region.
Unlike many artists of his era who were quick to caricature the ways of native peoples, Russell, a decades-long resident of the West, spent months living among the Blackfeet nation, whose traditions and values he greatly admired. In works like Medicine Man, he was meticulous about representing particular details of tribal customs—in this case those of the Piegan, who lived in central Montana. Even the horse bears distinctive tribal markings, including the red spots circled by blue on its neck, which signified successful raids against an enemy.
The composition of the work—a mounted brave, his proud bearing signifying determination and courage, leading a procession across the barren plain, the sun setting behind them—symbolically conveys Russell’s late-in-life fear that American business interests, with their drive to expansion, had destroyed the indigenous civilizations of the western territories.