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Lot 73
Melvin Warren
The Chisholm Trail 36 x 60in
8 February 2019, 12:00 PST
Los Angeles

Sold for US$62,500 inc. premium

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Melvin Warren (1920-1995)

The Chisholm Trail
signed, dated and inscribed '© Mel Warren CA 1986' (lower right)
oil on canvas
36 x 60in
Painted in 1986.


The artist.
Acquired by the late owner from the above, 1986.

Kerrville, Texas, Cowboy Artist of America Museum, Texas Sesquicentennial Show, April 25, 1986-July 13, 1986.

S.H. McGarry, Honoring The Western Tradition: The L.D. "Brink" Brinkman Collection, Kerrville, Texas, 2003, p. 167, illustrated.

As the son of a cowboy, it is no wonder Mel Warren would develop an interest in the wild West and become one of the original members of the Cowboy Artists of America. Born in 1920, Warren moved from ranch-to-ranch throughout California, Arizona, and New Mexico before settling in Texas at the age of fourteen. No stranger to the work of a ranch hand, Warren would later use his firsthand experiences to fuel his fantasies.

After serving in the Air Force during World War II, Warren attended the Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and earned a degree in fine art. After graduation, Warren worked as a commercial painter by day and then a cowboy artist by night. Never giving up on his own artistic development, he would continue studying art under Samuel Ziegler. By the 1960s, Warren would finally gain enough success with galleries to allow him to quit his day job and focus on his art full-time. In 1968, Warren joined the Cowboy Artists of America, winning the group's Memorial Award in his very first exhibition with them. Both a skilled painter and sculptor, Warren focused his subject matter on the heroic West. His palette was full of earth tones, creating naturalistic depictions of the West with influences of Impressionism apparent through his play of light and ability to capture moods.

Warren would become a favorite artist and friend of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who hung his work both in the White House and in the "Texas White House," President Johnson's ranch in Fort Worth. In 1972-1973, Warren was named the official Texas state artist. Visitors can still view Warren's work in the "Texas White House" today, as well as in the LBJ Museum and Library in Austin, Texas.

The Chisholm Trail personifies Warren's work as a painter of the historical West. In the late 19th century, the Chisholm Trail would become the most important route for driving the largest migration of cattle in history. An estimate of about five million cattle and mustangs were driven northward by thousands of cowboys, between 1867-1884. This cattle drive era would become how we define and envision the American cowboy today.

The artist once wrote to L.D. Brinkman, "I can sit in my studio and see this scene. Many times I have seen my own Longhorns swaggering along this trail on their way to the waterin' hole. The Chisholm Trail did, indeed pass through these two hills."1

True to his palette, Warren uses muted earth tones in this composition with wonderful pops of purple and yellow that add dimension to the landscape. As your eyes move from the cowboy in the lower left, to the cowboy in the upper right, to finally the distant cowboy in the upper left, you can sense the movement and large quantity of cattle as your eyes circle the entire composition. Warren has painted the cattle with a hazy quality, leading you to envision the storm of dust caused by such mass movement. The quick brushstrokes of the landscape juxtaposed with the more detailed handling of the figures further add to the sense of movement in the scene. The landscape is also beautifully handled in an impressionistic way, displaying Warren's skill with capturing mood and using the play of light.

The Chisholm Trail is a significant example of not only Warren's work, but also of the artwork created by the early Cowboy Artists who sought to romanticize and exemplify the wild West in a realist manner.

1 Melvin Warren, unpublished letter.

Additional information