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Charles M. Russell and the Art of Counting Coup
Charles M. Russell and the Art of Counting Coup

- by Brian W. Dippie.
Published by the Sid Richardson Museum in conjunction with the opening of an exhibition by the same name.

Brian W. Dippie, Ph.D., a specialist in the history of Western American art and an authority on Russell explains in his introduction:

Sometimes the stars line up just right, and the effect is electrifying. In the course of forming his great collection of Western art, Sid Richardson acquired both Counting Coup and When Blackfeet and Sioux Meet, two thematically related oil paintings that show Charles M. Russell at the top of his form in 1902 and 1908 respectively. In between, Russell created a brilliant action group, also titled Counting Coup, which was cast in bronze in 1905. Because Russell modeled so effortlessly, he liked to fashion wax figures to serve as guides for his paintings. They allowed him to perfect lighting, shadow, proportion, and perspective. In this instance, he had created a major bronze group based on the incident portrayed in his 1902 oil, and then he went on to make a painting identical in composition to the bronze.

It was always a goal to exhibit the bronze and the two pictures together to establish the interplay between modeling and painting in Russell's art. But a fourth component was missing. Russell wrote a letter in 1902 to his St. Louis patron, George W. Kerr, vividly recounting the story that inspired Counting Coup--a story he had heard directly from the lips of the Blood Indian featured in his painting....When that letter became available for exhibition through the generosity of its owner, all the pieces fell into place...

According to Dr. Dippie, "The letter is considered to be one of the finest that Russell ever wrote about one of his works of art."

He goes on to explain that "counting coup" (pronounced "coo") was a high honor and a key to social status for men in Plains Indian societies, which prized individual bravery. The coup was "counted" when an Indian succeeded in getting so close to the enemy that he could touch his adversary with a club or whip--without necessarily causing him any harm.

  • Soft cover.
  • 24 pages.
  • 18 color images.
  • 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches.

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