Olaf Seltzer’s paintings of the Old West form a bridge between the pioneering work of artists like Remington and Russell, and a later generation of artists who painted what had become history and myth. Born in Copenhagen, Seltzer began studying art at age 12 at the Technical Institute there. When his father died, his mother immigrated to Great Falls, Montana, and Seltzer worked as a cowboy and then hired on with the Great Northern Railway, often sketching the landscape in his spare time.
In 1897, he met Charles Russell, who gave him a great deal of advice and encouragement. They visited each other’s studies, and together went on many sketching and hunting trips in the Montana wilderness. By 1901, Seltzer was confidently working in oils and had become deeply interested in painting wildlife. Unlike Russell, Seltzer gained much of his knowledge about his craft and subjects by reading and researching diligently in libraries, and his painstaking approach soon began to bear fruit in the form of modest sales to local patrons. By 1921, he was a full-time painter and in 1926 moved to New York City to help Russell complete some of his commissions. Seltzer stayed in New York through 1927, studying paintings in the museums and galleries and making contacts with eastern buyers. He returned to Great Falls after his New York experience with new confidence in his art, but saddened by the death of Russell.
During the following years, Seltzer made many trips to New York and other eastern cities as his work was receiving acceptance there as well as in the West. Lacking the robust and colorful personality of Russell, however, Seltzer did not receive recognition as a first rate Western artist until recent years. Much of Seltzer’s work is stylistically very close to that of his mentor. Like Russell, Seltzer often chose the storyteller’s moment when anything could happen. His landscape settings are breathtakingly rendered with many accurate details.
After Seltzer’s return to Great Falls in 1927, he lived on the eastern edge of the city in a small bungalow. According to those who knew him, he usually painted in the mornings and then walked downtown for supplies and to read in the library through the afternoon. Seltzer’s paintings of the West were often based on his fertile imagination, yet they also reflected the spirit of his adopted region.
Seltzer created over 2500 works of art during his lifetime, including a series of miniatures of Montana history commissioned by Dr. Philip Cole, a wealthy collector. The project nearly ruined Seltzer’s eyesight, and he had to complete the series by using a magnifying glass.
Reference: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, edited by Dr. Rick Stewart, AskArt.com