Night has fallen. The horses stand wearily, their breath steaming in the cold air. Their ears are pricked, listening to something behind them. The man bends to his task, perhaps unharnessing them from the sled behind them. Alongside them the darker doorway of a dark barn looms.
The snow is falling, flakes filling the air. It is covering the ground, an unused sled, and the roofs of the buildings. It lingers on the bodies of horses and man and partially obscures another sled approaching from behind them.
That sled is coming past a building where golden light shines through the windows. That light is the only warm colour in the painting; the rest of the painting is lit with a cold, white light.
The artist is Frederick Remington. He was an American artist, illustrator and writer who became famous for his depictions of the American west at a time when the west was changing. His early work reflected a romantic vision of a rough country being explored and tamed by brave men, men whose lives and strength he would have liked to emulate.
This picture, however, is from a different time in his life. He had developed a relationship with Western army officers involved in fighting to take the West from the native Americans who lived there, and was invited to create portraits of the officers in the field. These portraits brought both Remington and the officers recognition and fame. He had also developed a relationship with Roosevelt, and it was because of these relationships that he became a war correspondent and artist for the New York Journal in the Spanish American War of 1898.
His time as a war correspondent changed his notions of war. He saw the horrors and deprivations that soldiers faced, and the brutality of the fighting. This new understanding changed his work. Instead of the heroic, he focused on the gritty life of the ordinary man. He saw and painted the darker side of life.
He also became interested in literal darkness – in painting the night, and in studying the effects and colours of moonlight.
You can see the darkness here. Both the darkness of night, and the hardness of travel through the snow, through the night, to come home to dark places at the the end of a cold winter’s day. Here is a moment of calm, of returning, of weariness but not yet of rest.
If you would like to know more about Remington and see more of his work, click here to visit a feature presentation about him at the National Gallery of Art.