What you see: A 1906 cast of Coming Through the Rye, a bronze by Frederic Remington. Christie’s sold it in May 2017 for $11.2 million against an estimate of $7 million to $10 million. It set a world record for the artist at auction as well as a record for an American sculpture that predates World War II.
Who was Frederic Remington? He was an American artist who excelled at scenes of the West, in both painting and sculpture. The Evolution of the Cowpuncher, a piece he co-created for Harper’s Monthly in September 1893, kindled the romantic legend of the cowboy. Remington came to sculpting in 1895, well after he had earned a reputation as a master of two-dimensional art. He died of peritonitis in 1909, at the age of 48.
How many casts of Coming Through the Rye are there? “What makes it so desirable is it exists in limited quantities. There are 17 known examples,” says William Haydock, head of Christie’s American art department. “The real challenge with Remington is was it cast during his lifetime? If not, was it estate-authorized, or is it posthumous without estate approval?”
To which group does this cast belong? “Of the 17, nine were made in his lifetime. The one we handled was one of those nine,” he says, noting that it carries the number three.
When did Remington break the molds? “Famously with this example, Frederic Remington himself broke the mold on Coming Through the Rye because it was his most complex sculpture. He took a metal bar to it, and he thoroughly destroyed it,” Haydock says. “That day got the best of him, but he quickly designed another [mold].”
Why did he find Coming Through the Rye so frustrating? “The bulk of his bronzes are isolated to a single figure,” he says. “This, by far, is his most complex and challenging bronze, and many view it as his grand masterwork in the arena of sculpture.”
The bronze seems to have a lot of delicate dangly bits that could break or snap off easily. “In these examples, because they were so prized and well-regarded, they were treated reasonably well,” Haydock says, noting that this one might have had a repair to one of the figures on the left.
How often does Coming Through the Rye go to market? “Very infrequently. Before this, it was 1998,” he says. “Of the 17, ten are in institutions, one is destined for an institution, and the one we just handled is likely to follow the same path. Numbers five and six are missing. [The May sale] represented more or less the last chance to buy a lifetime example from the artist. That was the perception in the marketplace, and I think it’s why you saw huge prices.”
How long do you think the Remington auction record will stand? “Probably the only scenario is a truly phenomenal Remington painting coming on the market in the next 10 years. The only way it’s going to be eclipsed is with a painting,” he says.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.