Mountain Sheep 1911

Charles M. Russell (1864 – 1926)
Mountain Sheep
modeled 1910; cast ca. 1911 bronze
4 -1/2 x 5 x 2 – 1/2 inches Inscribed: CM Russell (skull cipher)
Also inscribed: R.B.W

Dr. Rick Stewart writes about this bronze: “The story of this bronze is quite interesting. I did not have the whole story at the time I published my book on Russell’s bronzes, Charles M. Russell, Sculptor, in 1994.  That is because no copies of the actual bronze had yet come to light.  I knew of it only through a poor reproduction published in the magazine World’s Work in July 1911.  Russell seems to have made the model for the bronze in 1910, for it was listed as one of “two small figures in bronze” sent by Roman Bronze Works to Macbeth Galleries in November of that year.  The foundry ledgers record the first cast of a bronze called “Mountain Sheep” on November 12; this must have been the cast sent to Macbeth Galleries, because at that time Nancy Russell indicated in a letter that neither she nor her husband had yet seen the finished cast.  The Roman Bronze Works ledgers recorded two additional casts on January 3 and January 26, 1911.  The copyright for a sculpture of a mountain sheep “on a sloping rocky trail” was registered by Mrs. Russell on July, 1911.  This copyright was never renewed, because a slightly larger, more complex version of the sculpture, also titled “Mountain Sheep,” was created in 1924. The copyright for this later version was filed in 1925, and the smaller, earlier version of the subject was all but forgotten; in fact, there was no cast of the smaller version in the Nancy Russell estate at the time of her death in May 1940.  The Nancy Russell estate collection of bronzes by Charles M. Russell, now housed at the Amon Carter Museum and the most complete collection of the artist’s bronzes in existence, had no examples of the smaller, earlier version of the “Mountain Sheep,” first created in 1910.  However, after the publication of my book, a single copy of this long-lost sculpture came to light, and I was able to purchase it for the Amon Carter Museum collection.

Your cast of this early version of the “Mountain Sheep” is only the second cast I’ve seen and examined, after the example at the Amon Carter Museum.  The two casts are quite similar, with one very important difference:  the bronze belonging to the Amon Carter Museum does not appear to have a foundry mark, while your copy has a very small “R.B.W.” at the far lower edge of the bronze, right below the left rear leg of the mountain sheep.  This type of abbreviated foundry mark, with just the initials, was often used for smaller pieces from about 1908 to 1928 or so; at least, that is what I’ve seen in my own experience.  Russell’s characteristic signature and buffalo skull, incised into the original model on the side of the rocky base just below the animal’s left should, looks to me to be quite authentic-looking.  Looking at the underside of the bronze into the interior, I see that the inside of the casting was cleaned at some point, but there are a few spots of the original investment material remaining in the far interstices that look old and original.  You’ll notice a couple of very small bronze pugs in the casting that were used to repair imperfections (probably holes) n the wall of the cast.

The patina on the outside of the bronze seems to me to be old and entirely original to the piece—a dark reddish brown with normal areas of wear that give the surface a pleasing variegated color.  I like seeing the old accumulation of dulling and minor corrosion in all the interstices, especially under the animal; having this original, aged surface is a real plus.  The animal is beautifully rendered, in typical Russell fashion; as I said, it closely resembles the example in the Amon Carter collection, and both closely resemble the version shown in the 1911 reproduction.

In conclusion, I see nothing in this cast that would prevent me from expressing the opinion that this cast is indeed one of the early versions of Russell’s “Mountain Sheep,” probably cast beginning n 1910-1911 and thus a lifetime cast.  In addition, it is quite rare; only three casts have been clearly documented in the literature.”