Originally featured in Points West magazine in Spring 2018
Charles M. Russell Self-Portrait
This self-portrait pictures artist Charles M. Russell at age thirty-six, striking a relaxed yet strong pose. Feet planted solidly, chest puffed out, and with his hands at his hips, he exudes confidence. Russell wears his everyday duds: high-heeled riding boots, a cowboy hat, and his trademark sash. The “Cowboy Artist” began wearing sashes upon his arrival in Montana, and amassed quite a collection which included, among other types, Chinese silk sashes.
In this portrait, he wears a distinctive red sash of Métis manufacture, a carry-over from the French-Canadian fur trade. It has been suggested that Russell wore this slightly eccentric get-up to attract attention, to honor tradition, for comfort, and for utility, too; he tucked a paint box and brushes into his sash when painting out-of-doors.
Though he sometimes included his likeness in illustrated letters to friends and snuck his visage into polished studio paintings, this is one of only about a dozen or so stand-alone self-portraits. This special piece illustrates Russell’s personality, his affectations, and his satisfaction with the life that he forged. It was included in the Whitney’s second exhibition in 1960, the year it was gifted by the Charles Ulrick and Josephine Bay Foundation, Inc. (now the Bay and Paul Foundations).
Charles M. Russell (1864–1926). Self Portrait, 1900. Watercolor on paper, 12.375 x 6.875 inches. Gift of Charles Ulrick and Josephine Bay Foundation, Inc. 98.60