Update: The lifetime cast of Frederic Remington’s The Broncho Buster sold for $437,575.
What you see: The Broncho Buster, modeled in 1895 by Frederic Remington and cast in bronze. Bonhams estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.
The expert: Scot Levitt, specialist in California and Western paintings for Bonhams.
Who was Frederic Remington? He was an illustrator, a painter, and a sculptor who did most of his work in the later part of the 19th century. He became synonymous with the West along with another artist, Charles M. Russell. Unlike Russell, Remington lived in New York [and, at various points, New York state] and did his work from afar. His images were reproduced extensively in magazines and books.
Was Frederic Remington prolific? He was quite prolific, generally speaking. He did 22 sculptures, the first of which is The Broncho Buster. For some of these 22, few, if any, were cast.
What do we know about how The Broncho Buster came about? Remington had become a very well-known artist in America by 1895. He got a little restless and thought to try his hand at another medium. His friends encouraged him to try his hand at sculpture.
Showing mastery in two dimensions doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll show mastery in three dimensions. What did his friends see in his work that convinced them that Remington would show talent as a sculptor? I think there are things you can translate in terms of looking at anatomy, looking at the weight of an object, the turn of the muscle, the shape of the figure, that made them think he was capable of translating it into three dimensions. For whatever reason, they encouraged him to try it, and he succeeded in doing so. Whether there was a learning curve in there, no one seems to have written about it.
Did Frederic Remington train as a sculptor prior to attempting The Broncho Buster? Not to our knowledge.
That’s quite a debut. [Laughs] I agree!
The friends we’re talking about are Frederick Ruckstull, who was a sculptor, and Augustus Thomas, who was a playwright. Did either of them provide Frederic Remington help beyond encouraging him to try sculpture? Ruckstull was a neighbor of his. He gave him a sculptor’s table, sculptor’s wax, and tools. Presumably, The Broncho Buster was the first sculpture to come to fruition. There are photos of Remington working in his studio. [A still appears at the 33-second mark in this video.]
Did Ruckstull provide Remington any technical assistance? Again, there’s not a lot of detail on that, but I must assume there was some direction there. It doesn’t make sense otherwise.
What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult The Broncho Buster would have been to sculpt, and in particular, how difficult it would have been for someone who was new to sculpting? The entire work is balanced on the hind legs of the horse. Remington could have put a post in to help balance it, but he didn’t want an external support. Remington figured it out by balancing the cowboy’s arms, setting them at just the right angle so he could get the right balance in the sculpture. His notion was, “If a horse can do it in real life, I can do it in a sculpture.”
It certainly looks like it was tough to do. Very much so, very much so. Remington was one of the earlier people to say, “This work I do is very dynamic in two dimensions. There’s no reason why it couldn’t be created in three dimensions.” In a way, I don’t think it’s that crazy of a leap. He was that good of an artist. He just needed someone to encourage him.
It seems like The Broncho Buster has a fair amount of fiddly little dangly bits, such as the whip and the reins… Yes. That’s down to the talent of the foundry. A lot of detail was put on later, by hand. A lot of chasing [incising lines and decorative elements in the soft metal] was involved once it came out of the mold. It was up to the people at the foundry to file it down [at the seams] and put wrinkles in the neck of the horse and lines indicating where the saddle blanket is. It didn’t come out of the casting like that. It had to be shaped and formed.
Did a lot of the dangly bits tend to break off during casting? If you line up [copies of] The Broncho Buster, you’ll see differences in most of them. It’s probably on purpose on the part of the artist, who might say, “Let’s make the chaps look more wooly,” or “Let’s turn his foot out so it looks more like he’s just hanging on” to make it more interesting. And the whips and reins vary.
Frederic Remington was editing The Broncho Buster as copies emerged from the mold? Yes, as much as he was able to. There are also differences in the chasing. It’s not possible to make every single one identical. That’s part of the beauty of them. When something is handmade, it’s not going to be identical. It was a hugely labor-intensive thing. It’s crazy difficult when you look at all the work that went into it.
And do I understand this right–the positions of the whips and reins vary on every copy of The Broncho Buster? Yes. As time went on, they became very pliable, and could bend. If you look through Michael Greenbaum’s book Icons of the West: Frederic Remington’s Sculpture, pretty much every one is in a different place.
Why do you think that is? I think it’s handling. The housekeeper comes along and dusts it, and it’s in a different place.
Does the flexibility of the whips and reins affect the value of any given example of The Broncho Buster? No. It’s an interesting thing. In the trade, we know there are whips that go missing. The whip came out of the cowboy’s hand, and could be removed. It doesn’t affect the value.
How many copies of The Broncho Buster were cast? There are 64 from the original foundry, Henry-Bonnard, and 276 from the second foundry. There were only 90 castings done during Remington’s lifetime.
And collectors prefer castings of The Broncho Buster that were done during his lifetime? The prices reflect that, yes. When he died in 1909, his widow needed money, so she authorized the Roman Bronze Works [the second foundry] to continue making them. In her will, she said to destroy all the plaster casts used to make them, but the foundry continued to make them because they were so popular. Remington did 22 sculptures, but this, by far, is his most famous.
I think President George W. Bush had a bronze of The Broncho Buster in the Oval Office. Does that sort of thing matter to its popularity? Yeah, but a lot of its fame was set at the turn of the last century, and it’s been there ever since. I just think certain images are associated with a time in history, and this happens to be one of them.
How were the bronzes of The Broncho Buster produced? Did they offer them through a catalog and make them as orders came in, or did they do batches of six or 12 or whatever, and make a new batch after the first one sold? They were doing them as ordered, and sold them through Tiffany.
Tiffany? As in the jeweler? Yes. Others sold them too, such as the Knoedler Gallery. But 90 percent of them sold through Tiffany, for $250 [apiece].
What method of bronze casting was used to make The Broncho Buster? The lost wax method. It appears Remington had an appreciation for it as an ancient traditional method of bronze-casting. Among the people who famously received the sculpture back in the day were Theodore Roosevelt and Enrico Caruso. All that adds to its fame.
Kind of like giving products to social media influencers today… Exactly!
Is The Broncho Buster solid or hollow? Hollow, cast in pieces and fused together.
The Broncho Buster you’re offering measures 23 and 3/4 inches high. Is that the only size the bronze came in? During Remington’s life, yes. Later on, after his death, larger versions were cast.
Did the color of The Broncho Buster‘s patina vary at all? Most are thought of as having a rich, light brown patina, but others have lots of turquiose green in there.
How involved was Frederic Remington in the physical casting of The Broncho Buster? Was it limited to him saying, “Do this, not that”? Exactly. He didn’t pour anything. He handed them the wax model, and the foundry took it from there. He looked at the finished version and said “I like it” or “I don’t like it.”
How often does a lifetime casting of The Broncho Buster come to auction? Generally, once a year.
What is The Broncho Buster like in person? The patina has a wonderful richness to it–a feeling of richness, age, and quality. And it has wonderful details on it: the lines of the saddle blanket, the latch on the saddle bag, the holster on the belt, the spurs. The more you can see the details, the more valuable they usually are, because they’re more likely to be an early casting.
The number “4” appears on the underside of the base of this copy of The Broncho Buster. What does that mean? It’s amazing to get one that early. They didn’t edition them, exactly. It’s not number X out of X, it’s just a number.
What condition is this example in? Best as I can tell, it’s in excellent condition.
How many bronzes of The Broncho Buster have you personally handled? I’ve been here since 1984, and I’ve had about 20 of them.
What’s the world auction record for a copy of The Broncho Buster? The highest price was at Christie’s in 2007, when one sold for $2.6 million.
Is the world auction record for a Frederic Remington sculpture still Coming Through the Rye? Yes, and the reason is rarity. There are 276 of The Broncho Buster. Coming Through the Rye, which was considered a huge deal at the time because it was filled with figures, there are only 15. It’s a supply and demand issue.
As you noted before, Frederic Remington did almost two dozen sculptures. Why does The Broncho Buster dominate the public consciousness? To my mind, it’s the same way I think of something like Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid. It has Western Americana, the taming of the West, the early American spirit, it has all those things wrapped up in it. The Cheyenne and The Rattlesnake [also offered in the auction] have similar ideas, but they’re not quite the same. Starting in 1895, the public was aware of The Broncho Buster, and it’s stuck in the public consciousness ever since.
Image is courtesy of Bonhams.
Scot Levitt has appeared before on The Hot Bid, talking about a Gilbert Munger painting of El Capitan as well as an early Sydney Laurence painting of the mountain now known as Denali.
Frederic Remington has an art museum. Care to guess what its logo is? No points for getting it right.
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