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George Caleb Bingham

George Caleb Bingham

George Caleb Bingham

George Caleb Bingham (1811 – 1879) was an American artist, soldier, and politician. He was elected as a delegate to the Missouri legislature before the American Civil War, where he fought the extension of slavery westward. During that war, although born in Virginia, Bingham was dedicated to the Union cause. He became captain of a volunteer company, which helped keep the state from joining the Confederacy and then served four years as Missouri’s Treasurer. During his final years, Bingham held several offices in Kansas City.

His paintings of Americans provide a unique perspective of frontier life along the Missouri River. However, as an artist, Bingham’s reputation languished by the turn of the century. In 1934, the St. Louis Art Museum held a retrospective exhibition of his work, and interest in his art increased. Art historians noticed his depictions of ordinary people from the middle of the previous century, as better known and appreciation of his work grew.

Bingham exemplifies the Luminis Art Style of American landscape painting style of the 1850s – 1870s. The technique was characterized by a focus on the effects of light in landscapes and often depict calm, reflective water and a soft, hazy sky. Luminism is distinguished by an attention to detail and the hiding of brushstrokes, in contrast, to Impressionism which is marked by less focus on details and an emphasis on noticeable brushstrokes

By the early 2000s, Bingham was considered one of the greatest American painters of the 19th century. Over twenty newly discovered paintings by Bingham have been authenticated with the increased interest in his art.

A Tour of George Caleb Bingham’s Art

  • Fur Traders Descending the Missouri
    • “Fur Traders Descending the Missouri” by George Caleb Bingham is one of his most famous paintings, originally entitled, “French Trader, Half-breed Son.” It reflects the reality of fur trappers and traders frequently marrying Native American women. In Canada, the ethnic Métis people, trace their descent to First Nations peoples and European settlers. The painting recalls a foundation era in American history, especially with the liberty cap worn by the older man and a cub seated at the end of the boat, secured by a chain.

      George Caleb Bingham’s paintings of American life in the frontier lands along the Missouri River exemplifies the Luminist style. Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

  • Self-Portrait of the Artist
    • “Self-Portrait of the Artist” by George Caleb Bingham did not emphasize his identity as an artist but used the conventions and style he used to depict his clients. This self-portrait served as an advertisement for his work. Bingham began his artistic career by filling the demand for portraits among the prominent citizens of Missouri.

      East Coast painters did not make regular trips to the west. Bingham’s clients in the western states were as anxious to have their images portrayed as other prosperous parts of America. Museum:  Saint Louis Art Museum

Self-Portrait of the Artist

  • Title:                    Self-Portrait of the Artist
  • Artist:                  George Caleb Bingham
  • Date:                   1835
  • Medium:             Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:        Height: 72.1 ″ (183.1 cm); Width: 57.6 ″ (146.3 cm)
  • Museum:             Saint Louis Art Museum

George Caleb Bingham

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“To the beautiful belongs an endless variety. It is seen not only in symmetry and elegance of form, in youth and health, but is often quite as fully apparent in decrepit old age. It is found in the cottage of the peasant as well as the palace of kings.”
– George Caleb Bingham

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Photo Credit: 1) George Caleb Bingham [Public domain]