Aiding a Comrade
Frederic Remington, American, 1861–1909
Oil on canvas
34 5/16 × 48 1/8 in. (87.1 × 122.2 cm) Frame: 43 1/2 × 57 1/2 in. (110.5 × 146.1 cm)
Habits of Mind
- SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications
SUBJECT AREALanguage Arts
Writing about History
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
Connecting to the Work of Art
Connecting to the Work of Art
By the 1890s, the American cowboy had become a national folk hero. Frederic Remington’s paintings, sculptures, and illustrations combine the realism and romance of the cowboy and the West. In Aiding a Comrade, Remington has chosen a scene of high drama. One interpretation of this painting is that, while riding, a cowboy has fallen from his horse. His companions attempt to help him and prevent him from being trampled by their horses. The artist leaves the fate of the rider unclear. However, in knowing the painting’s original title, Past All Surgery, Remington incorporates an element of fatalism and indicates that the fallen cowboy, beyond all help, may be doomed to be killed by the pursuing Plains Indians.
Remington focuses on the group of men and horses in the foreground. The brown horses turn outward, framing the central figure, who is further accentuated by the cloud of white dust behind him. The artist’s attention to detail is apparent in the depiction of the men, their clothing, and their riding equipment. Remington creates a convincing illusion of deep space through perspective – he paints the Indians much smaller, with less detail, and with faded colors. Remington’s colors are natural and strong; small touches of blue, cream, tan, and yellow on the ground suggest the shimmer of the hot sunlight. The quick, short brushstrokes show the influence of French Impressionism, which emphasized color, shadow, and light. For additional information about Impressionism, see Gustave Caillebotte’s The Orange Trees (Teacher’s Guide Grades 1-3, page --).
Perhaps no other artist is as closely identified with the depiction of the American West as Frederic Remington. Born in upstate New York in 1861, the son of a newspaper editor and Civil War soldier, Remington was fascinated with the tales his father told of battles and soldierly camaraderie. He briefly studied art at Yale University and at the Art Students League in New York. In 1881, Remington took his first trip to the West. In the following year, he moved to Kansas where he bought and ran a sheep ranch.
In 1884 Remington returned to New York, where he began selling his sketches to publishers of illustrated magazines. He soon became a leading illustrator of Western subjects, and one of the most sought-after magazine illustrators in America. His reputation was such that when Theodore Roosevelt wrote a series of articles on ranching and hunting in the West, he chose Remington to illustrate them.
During the 1880s, Remington turned his attention from illustration to painting and sculpture. Aiding a Comrade is an excellent example of the work for which he is best known.
Sensing that the American West was still artistically unchartered, Frederic Remington traveled west many times to report for magazines, make sketches, and buy props, such as boots and hats, for his studio. He exhibited Aiding a Comrade with the American Art Association in New York in 1890. During this show critics positioned him not only as an artist, but as a historian and ethnographer. The narrative quality of his work gained him a reputation as a pictorial recorder of the passing American West.
Observe the figures in the foreground.Describe their clothing, riding equipment, facial expressions, horses, and implied actions. Name the men and their horses. Why did you choose those names?
Compare those figures with what is portrayed in the background.
How does the artist use aspects of perspective to create an illusion of deep space between the cowboys and the Plains Indians?
Describe the colors and the color scheme.Why might the artist have chosen such a limited color palette?
How do the artist’s brushstrokes differ throughout the painting?What types of textures do they evoke?
Where is the center of interest? How does the artist use color, space, and line to direct your eye to that area?
This center of interest could be compared to the climax in a novel or story map.Discuss and develop a possible story map for this work of art including characters, setting, conflict, and resolution.
Predict what could possibly happen next. Support your prediction with evidence from the painting. How does your knowledge of history affect your interpretation?
What title might you give this work of art? Why?
The artist, Frederick Remington, originally entitled this work of art: Past All Surgery.How does that affect your thoughts about what might have happened next?However, the title it bears today is: Aiding a Comrade. Does that change your perspective of the work of art? How and why?
- Study the work of art. Introduce the concepts of fiction and non-fiction.
- Discuss ways in which the work is an accurate and factual depiction of the American West. Then discuss ways in which it presents legends or myths about the West.
- Would you classify this work of art as fiction or as non-fiction? Why?
Assess the time period, location, and climate shown in this painting through Remington’s representation of terrain, dress, and people. Support your thoughts with historical, geographical, and scientific facts.
Draw conclusions about what the various people in this painting might be thinking.Is empathy being demonstrated? How?
Frederick Remington exhibited Aiding a Comrade at an 1890 exhibition in New York where critics claimed he was not only an artist, but also a historian and ethnographer (someone who studies people and cultures). Conclude why critics would claim that. Elaborate using evidence from the painting. Do you agree? Why or why not?
In the study of history, would this work of art be considered a primary or secondary source? Explain your position.
Perhaps no other artist is as closely connected with the depiction of the American West as Frederick Remington. Research some of the over 200 works of art that The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston owns by visiting the collections in the MFAH Beck Building, Bayou Bend, or online at mfah.org. How do these collections reflect American history?
How might this event be different in a rendering of it today? Explain.
• As a class, describe the work of art. What does it tell about the history of the American West? Then, gather information about the subject and artist of the work. Write an expository text narrative about that work of art.
• Write essays about the events and display them with the painting.
Subject Matter Connection
In reading and writing, attention to detail is important. By observing Aiding a Comrade and its familiar subjects, students can put into practice the art of observation. These observation skills can be repeated and re-emphasized throughout the school year when students observe works of art, read, or prepare to write. Because the subjects of Aiding a Comrade are familiar, students should be more comfortable about communicating their thoughts and verbalizing their ideas about this work, skills that carry over into both group and independent language arts practice activities and assessments.
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider