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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

American, 1861 - 1909
The Call for Help
c. 1908
Oil on canvas

27 1/4 x 40 1/8 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Hogg Brothers Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Arts of North America

At first glance, this painting is difficult to decipher. But much in the way that eyes adjust to darkness, forms and patterns begin to emerge out of the gloom, and three startled horses threatened by two wolves (or coyotes) come to light. The evocative mood and supernatural quality of this work, and others like it, made the West look like a timeless dreamworld, a quality that established Frederic Remington's nocturnes, or night scenes, among his greatest artistic achievements.

Remington exhibited The Call for Help in his 1908 solo exhibition at the prestigious New York gallery Knoedler & Company. The painting received superb reviews, with at least five critics singling it out for praise. The New York Times stated that the work "tells, perhaps, the most impressive story" of all those in the show. Other critics likewise celebrated Remington as a great storyteller and painter, as well as a preserver of the romantic and primal side of Western life.

Indeed, the composition is a masterly rendering of a tense moment set within a moonlit, snowy landscape. Using black, blue, and highlights of gray, Remington suggests the musculature, sheen, and movement of the three terror-stricken horses: one cowers, another rears, while the third, partially obscured from view, presses close to the fence. The fence itself, an abstract pattern of broad bands of light and dark, marks the collision between the wildness of nature and the order of civilization, the latter represented by the log cabin and stacks of hay or grain in the background.