Charles M. Russell (1864–1926), The Hold Up, 1899, oil on canvas, courtesy of The Petrie Collection.
The C.M. Russell Museum is thrilled to announce the opening on February 24 of a special exhibition, “I Beat You To It”: Charles Russell at the Mint, organized to honor the museum’s 60th anniversary this year. For the first time in twenty-five years, the exhibition brings back to Montana six major Russell oil paintings, as well as watercolors, sketches, and memorabilia from Sid Willis’s famous Mint saloon collection. Highlights of the exhibition are The Hold Up (1899), Russell’s masterpiece from the late 1890s, and Buffalo Hunt No. 26 (1899), one of the artist’s most famous buffalo hunt scenes and perhaps the finest painting from the Mint Collection.
As most Montanans know, the Mint Collection is “the one that got away.” From the late 1890s to the 1940s, Sid Willis, a close friend of Russell, amassed a remarkable group of 10 major oil paintings, 25 watercolors, 17 illustrated letters, and a rare set of the artist’s wax models, which he proudly displayed in his downtown Great Falls eating and drinking establishment. Consequently, the Mint saloon became more than “the finest place of its character in the state.” It was the repository for nearly half a century of the most famous collection of Russell art ever assembled in Montana, attracting visitors from all over the country.
In 1945 when Willis sold the Mint saloon and its prized collection, he stipulated that the Russell artworks and memorabilia were to remain in Montana. A fundraising campaign was organized, but after six years it was declared a failure. The Mint collection was purchased by Amon G. Carter of Fort Worth and later helped form the core of the museum founded in his name.
Through the generosity of Thomas Petrie and Trevor Rees-Jones, the Russell Museum is privileged to offer this rare opportunity to see together for the first time in decades a selection of the finest Russell artwork from the Mint Collection. Paraphrasing Russell’s famous advertising slogan for the Mint saloon, don’t let anyone “beat you to it.”