Dismounted: The Fourth Troopers Moving the Led Horses

The horses in Remington’s painting thunder towards us, kicking up clouds of dust. Chaos seems imminent, but this military maneuver is well practiced. In every group of troopers, three dismount to pursue the battle while the fourth leads the riderless steeds to safety. Each animal is distinctly different, but the mustachioed troopers look alike, all seemingly based on the same model. Despite its realistic detail, this picture is a work of historical fiction rather than a record of an actual battle on the western frontier.

Frederic Remington traveled west—to the Montana Territory—in 1881, when he was nineteen years old. It was the first of many trips, for he devoted the next twenty-eight years to documenting the disappearing lifestyle of the American frontier. His popular magazine illustrations and paintings determined the public vision of the Wild West. With romantic realism, he depicted cowboys, Native Americans, hunters, and soldiers. Contrary to contemporary popular belief, however, Remington did not see action with the military, nor did he work as a cowboy.

Dismounted: The Fourth Trooper Moving the Led Horses refers to the cavalry’s method of getting its horses efficiently off the battlefield. The soldiers would count off in fours, and every fourth trooper would lead his horse and the other three to safety. Like all Remington’s paintings of the 1890s, this scene was composed in the studio from sketches and photographs made in the field. It is an excellent example of Remington’s early style. The horizontal format and low point of view intensify the action so that the four horses in the foreground appear to be galloping right out of the picture. Because none of the hooves touches the ground, the animals appear to fly through the dusty air. The horses are carefully individualized, each one different in color and posture, whereas the troopers all have identical features. Remington prided himself on his knowledge of horses and his ability to render them in his work, where they played a central role. Critics praised his skill in portraying equine anatomy and locomotion and depicting the idiosyncrasies of various breeds.

In 1892, two years after it was painted, Dismounted was reproduced as an illustration for E. S. Godfrey’s article “Custer’s Last Battle” in Century Illustrated Magazine. Consequently, the scene was believed to represent the battle of the Little Bighorn. This is unlikely, however, because Remington’s site is nonspecific and the military accoutrements are not accurate for General Custer’s final battle, which took place fourteen years before this painting was done. Sabers, prominent in Remington’s painting, were not used at the Little Bighorn because it was feared that their rattling would alert the enemy.

— Jennifer Gordon Lovett, excerpted from The Clark: Selections from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Steven Kern et al. (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1996), p. 120.

Provenance

Mrs. William H. Sage, New York; to (M. Knoedler & Co., New York, February 24, 1944); to Lincoln Ellsworth, New York, March 7, 1944; to (M. Knoedler & Co., New York, February 7, 1945); to Robert Sterling Clark, May 1, 1945.

Frederic Remington

American, 1861–1909

Dismounted: The Fourth Troopers Moving the Led Horses

1890

Oil on canvas

34 1/16 x 48 15/16 in. (86.5 x 124.3 cm) Frame: 42 1/8 x 57 x 2 3/4 in. (107 x 144.8 x 7 cm)


Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1945

1955.11


ON LOAN

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Conrads, Margaret C. American Paintings and Sculpture at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990.