A total of 30 Charles M. Russell works fetched millions of dollars at auction in Reno, with one painting symbolizing the railroad's effect on American Indians drawing $1.9 million and another depicting a Native American chief selling for $1.1 million.
Other top prices at the annual Coeur d'Alene Art Auction on Saturday included $1.7 million for a Frederic Remington painting featuring a group of Indians and $1.5 million for a Thomas Moran painting depicting an Arizona gulch.
Russell artwork is highly sought after, auction organizer Mike Overby said, and commanded from about $25,000 for small sketches to the $1.9 million for his 1924 water color "Trail of the Iron Horse."
The painting shows a group of Indians on horseback looking down at railroad tracks with the sun setting on the open plains in the background.
"It's a very iconic image, absolutely one of his best," Overby said. "There's so much symbolism in that painting. I think that's what really grabs people's heart strings. Russell is still considered the absolute blue-chip artist of our genre."
Russell's romantic 1897 "Dakota Chief," which sold for $1.1 million, depicts a young American Indian man on horseback who is wearing a long-tailed feathered headdress and carrying a lance. While Russell was known as "the cowboy artist" in his early days, he actually painted more Indian subjects, historians say.
Remington's 1907 "The Story of Where the Sun Goes," which fetched $1.7 million, depicts several young Indians listening to an elder while sitting in a grove of trees.
"His large oils are extremely rare and hardly ever come to market, and when they do there's always interest in them," Overby said. "It wasn't a high-action painting. This was a much more serene and reflective piece."
The most spirited bidding of the day involved James Fraser's sculpture "End of the Trail," which depicts an American Indian warrior slumped over on his horse. Competition between two bidders drove its price up to $921,000, roughly twice the estimated price.
The Golden Rooster that spent a half century at John Ascuaga's Nugget hotel-casino in nearby Sparks sold for $234,000. The 14-pound sculpture made of 18-karat gold was unveiled at the Nugget in 1958.
More than 650 registered bidders took part in what was billed as the world's largest Western art sale. About 320 works were sold for a total of some $30 million, nearly the same as last year's $30.5 million.