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Russell painting sells for $1.25 million at auction

GREAT FALLS – An oil painting by Western artist Charlie Russell depicting a horse thief waving a white flag amid dead and injured horse thieves as well as dead horses has sold for $1.25 million.

The Great Falls Tribune reported the price is the highest ever paid for a Russell painting at the annual Russell Live Auction, held Saturday in the Mansfield Convention Center.

Steve Zabel, of Bozeman, said he bought the painting called “Offering a Truce (Bested)” for a friend. He topped a phone bidder to claim the painting.

“It’s an important Russell painting that we’d like to add to our collection,” Zabel said.

Experts say the painting is based on an actual event at the mouth of the Musselshell River involving a vigilante group and horse thieves, but that Russell altered the scene to add drama with a vast landscape. The vigilante group can be seen in the distance. In the foreground are three dead horse thieves, plus dead horses with blood emanating from their mouths.

The auction is the signature event of four days of activities to raise money for the C.M. Russell Museum. Participants typically refer to the entire four-day event that also includes a silent auction as the Russell.

“This is the best Russell in terms of sales,” said Michael Duchemin, executive director of the C.M. Russell Museum.

Officials didn’t have final amount for how much the live action brought in late Saturday. But through lot 218 of 230, officials said $4.7 million worth of art has been sold. That exceeds last year’s record of $3.1 million.

Officials estimated the total take for the four days would be $5.3 million. The events are held the same month as the birthday of Russell, born March 19, 1864.