‘One imagines the soldiers hard-pressed, making a dismounted stand against the Indians—and then the welcome sound of the bugle as their comrades come charging to the rescue’
The scene in Saving the Dispatch could be considered classic Frederic Remington: Dusty cavalry troopers fight off Indians on a desolate landscape while a buckskin-clad scout gallops away. Only Remington didn’t paint the oil-on-canvas. In fact, he despised the artist, an Easterner inspired by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West exhibitions. Saving the Dispatch is classic Charles Schreyvogel.
“One imagines the soldiers hard-pressed, making a dismounted stand against the Indians—and then the welcome sound of the bugle as their comrades come charging to the rescue,” says historian Brian W. Dippie. “It is, in short, pure Wild West theatrics, and I can’t imagine a fan of Western art who wouldn’t love to own it!” No doubt. In 2006 Saving the Dispatch, which Schreyvogel completed in 1909, sold for $1.44 million, including the buyer’s premium, at a Cowan’s auction. The painting was from the collection of Marge Schott, the former Cincinnati Reds owner, who died in 2004. Although the auction raised $4.9 million for Schott’s charitable foundation, the highlight was Saving the Dispatch, which Schreyvogel completed in 1909.
“He [Schreyvogel] only produced 100 paintings or so,” says Suzan Campbell, Gund curator of Western art, history and culture at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art [www.eiteljorg.org] in Indianapolis. “When you talk about Remington and Charlie Russell, these are people who were on the scene for a very long time, and they produced not just hundreds of images, but they also wrote, and they illustrated their own work, and they illustrated the works of other people.”
In the 1890s, Schreyvogel, the son of German immigrants and then a struggling artist in Hoboken, N.J., attended Cody’s Wild West extravaganza in New York and found a new calling. Deciding to paint the “Indian-fighting Army,” Schreyvogel headed west, visiting the Ute reservation in Colorado and an Arizona ranch. While there he interviewed soldiers, made sketches and collected artifacts. Returning home, he painted on the roof of his apartment building and often substituted the New Jersey Palisades in his backgrounds.
“Though he made trips West to paint Indians, Schreyvogel…learned most of his moves from rehearsals and performances of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West,” Dippie says. “He was Cody’s frequent guest and essentially adopted the show’s theme as his own in a succession of paintings notable for their head-on, whoop-and-holler action. For me, his work is the ultimate artistic homage to the idea of the Wild West, with tons of heart-pounding excitement.”
Schreyvogel soon gained national attention—and Remington’s animosity. “Remington despised Schreyvogel,” Dippie says. “He was prickly when it came to critical recognition accorded other artists.” In 1903 Remington criticized Schreyvogel’s historical oil, Custer’s Demand, through newspaper reporters. “He charged Schreyvogel with dozens of errors,” Dippie says, “only to have his position undermined in the pursuant squabble when President Roosevelt, Libbie Custer and one of the officers actually present at the incident shown all sided with Schreyvogel. Remington simmered, but…nursed his wounds in private. Schreyvogel stayed above the fray, expressing admiration for Remington’s achievement.”
Other notable Schreyvogel paintings include In Hot Pursuit, On the Skirmish Line, Off for Town, Breaking Through the Line and Attack on the Herd (Close Call). Several museums feature his work, including the Eiteljorg; the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Okla.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City; the Rockwell Museum of Western Art in Corning, N.Y.; and the Sid Richardson Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.
Schreyvogel died of blood poisoning in 1912, yet his paintings continue to strike a chord, particularly with those interested in Western military history. “By focusing on the Army, the U.S. Cavalry,” Campbell says, “he touched people, because of the strong sentiment he was able to express.…I think there was a feeling of veracity in his work, even though he never did travel with the fighting Army.”