The American West is an iconic and distinct time in history. This period generated its unique genre of artwork, and many painters have portrayed the old Wild West for years. They depicted the era when Native Americans still held a large part of the land east of the Mississippi River, the era when cattle were driven hundreds of miles across the prairie and open grasslands. It was also when cowboys became a legendary part of American culture.
There are many famous paintings depicting this era. Most paintings are realistic and show the fascinating people of that time and their struggles, hardships, and obstacles.
In this article, let's look at some of these famous Wild West paintings, discuss them briefly, and then, just for fun, speculate about whether the painting could inspire a movie-maker. Of course, as not many Wild West movies are made anymore, the inspiration the artworks will provide will sometimes be for more "modern" concepts than what is depicted in the painting.
The Fall of the Cowboy by Frederic Remington (1861-1909)
Frederic Remington was born in New York during the Civil War. As his father was a colonel in the Union Army, Remington produced drawings and sketches of soldiers and cowboys from a very young age. Later he focused much of his career on creating depictions of the American Old West.
However, his painting "The Fall of the Cowboy" symbolized the end of the cowboy way of life due to industrial development. The two cowboys depicted in the painting are at a gate to let them go through a fence – in contrast with the cowboys' traditional "no-barrier" life. The snow symbolizes that "winter" has arrived for cowboy life.
This painting might inspire a movie-maker to use it either as a closing scene in a semi-documentary film about how industrialization influenced traditional cowboy life or as an opening scene showing that the end of one era is not necessarily the end of everything. The two cowboys can find a "new life" on the other side of the fence.
A Dash for the Timber by Frederic Remington
This is another painting by Remington where he created depictions of real-life events told to him by people directly involved with skirmishes between cowboys and Native American war parties.
"A Dash for the Timber" portrays a group of cowboys pursued by Apache warriors with a fearsome reputation. It depicts the cowboys firing their pistols and rifles as they flee into the timber cover.
This Wild West art could be the inspiration for a movie showcasing how, since the colonization of America, misunderstandings and mistrust between people have led to irreversible conflict situations where people even lost their lives.
Camp Cook's Troubles by Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926)
Charles Marion Russell is famous for depicting characters from the American West, including cowboys and Native Americans. One of Russell's paintings, "Camp Cook's Troubles" (1912), shows a bucking horse in the middle of a cowboy encampment.
A cowboy is clinging to the saddle, trying to tame the wild horse, while other people are knocked down and are scrambling to get away. The cook is depicted where he is without success using a long knife to try and stop the horse.
This painting might be the inspiration for a movie scene in a film set in the Wild West where a wild horse bursts into the camp. All the campers – cowboys and Native Americans - have to help to try and tame the horse. The scene can be a visual description of how cowboys and Native Americans have, throughout history, despite disputes and fights, often worked together to save themselves and their property.
Herd Quitters by Charles Marion Russell
Another famous painting by Charles Marion Russell depicted one of the problems cowboys commonly faced- a cow running away from the herd. Three cowboys are chasing a cow as they have to get the cow back in the herd.
This painting can easily be the inspiration for an authentic Wild West movie scene about the pride and honor of a group of cowboys to deliver as many of the herd as possible to their destination. The movie can be about the daily life of cowboys driving a herd to a destination and the camaraderie between the cowboys working together.
Texas Cowboy by Stanley L. Wood (1866-1928)
Stanley Wood was born in Wales, but his family moved to Kansas when he was only six years old. This greatly influenced him, and he became famous as a painter who focused much of his career on paintings that depicted the American West and the classic representation of the cowboy.
He named one of his paintings simply "Texas Cowboy." The painting depicts a cowboy holding a lasso and rope while riding a fast-moving horse. The cowboy's eyes are fixed on something – most probably a steer that he is preparing to lasso and tie.
This painting can inspire a Wild West movie scene where the cowboys compete to see who can lasso and tie a steer in the shortest time. It can be a part of the film to show that for cowboys, everything was not only working – they could use their skills for "sport" as well.
Cowboys Roping a Bear by James Walker
James Walker was one of the earlier painters dedicated to creating paintings of the American West. Although he was born in Britain, he spent many years painting scenes from the American West. One of his famous works is "Cowboys Roping a Bear."
In this painting, a group of 6 cowboys is depicted. They are on horseback and encircling a bear while they lasso it with their ropes. Some art historians believe that the painting shows the capturing moment of a bear on the open plains.
According to art critics, the painting also represents the effects of humanity on nature and comments on how detrimental settling in the West was to wildlife.
This painting can be the inspiration a movie-maker is waiting for to make a film about how, even in the Wild West era, humans have always been detrimental to the environment and wildlife.
The American West produced a unique genre of artwork. Painters portrayed the era when Native Americans still held a large part of the land east of the Mississippi River, and cowboys became a legendary part of American culture. Nowadays, these paintings often serve as inspiration for movie-makers.