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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

The Election Series by George Caleb Bingham

edGeorge Caleb Bingham - The County Election

“The County Election” by George Caleb Bingham

“The County Election” by George Caleb Bingham is the first painting he made for his Election Series showing the voting process in Missouri. This painting depicts men from different social classes lining up the stairs to vote. A banner displays the words, “The Will of the People” and “The Supreme Law,” a credo that had significant meaning for George Caleb Bingham. Bingham believed that every man should have the right to vote because the will of the people should be the supreme law.

Bingham chose to depict the scene outside in the open rather than behind the curtains of the government to represent universal suffrage. Bingham believed that people had a right to share their ideas. He also thought that he lost his seat in the legislature in 1846 due to the improper following of the people’s will. A mill in the background of the painting provides a reference to a Whig candidate who used a mill as a political symbol. The cedar barrels echo a different Whig candidate who used cedar barrels as his political symbol.

Bingham (1811 – 1879) was an American artist and politician. Initially a Whig, he was elected as a delegate to the Missouri legislature before the American Civil War. The Whigs emerged in the 1830s in opposition to President Andrew Jackson. During that Civil War, although born in Virginia, Bingham was dedicated to the Union cause and 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 also served as Missouri’s Adjutant General.

The painting is full of narrative details of individual stories; for example, Bingham showed two men flipping a coin beneath a judge. The two people represent the ex-governor bet that he had placed on the election of Bingham versus his opponent.

The County Election

  • Title:                     The County Election
  • Artist:                   George Caleb Bingham
  • Date:                    1852
  • Medium:              Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:         Height: 38″ (96.5 cm); Width: 52″ (132 cm)
  • Museum:              Saint Louis Art Museum

“Stump Speaking” by George Caleb Bingham

George Caleb Bingham - Stump Speaking

“Stump Speaking” by George Caleb Bingham

“Stump Speaking” by George Caleb Bingham is the second painting in the artist’s Election Series showing the voting process in Missouri. This painting depicts a politician attempting to persuade the audience to vote in his favor. Bingham depicted three key figures that stand out because of their bright white clothing. The three figures symbolized Bingham’s views of “the past,” “the present,” and “the future” of American politics.

Firstly the “Outstanding Citizen” who is sitting man opposite of the Speaker with the larger wite tophat. Bingham’s sketch refers to this figure as representing “the past” as the man’s sharp edges, and fine clothes show how he is unwilling to bend his beliefs.

The “Stump Speaker” has softer curves that represent “the present” of American politics, in which the figure is swaying the assembled crowd by bending to the people’s desires, shown by the curving arm that is outstretched to the audience.

The crucial third figure is the “Small Businessman” represented by the young adult below the speakers’ hands who is counting his money, who also represents “the future.” This figure represents Bingham’s views on how people are starting to focus more on their money and less on politics. The character also is depicted detached from the debate surrounding him.

The three figures represent “the past” of gentlemen farmers. “The present” of party hacks and “the future” of materialistic isolated citizens.

Bingham’s painting had both a national message and a local message. Some of the people portrayed in the pictures resemble local Missouri politicians. Behind the Speaker sits a man resembling Bingham’s self-portrait taking notes about the speech, waiting for his turn to speak. The Speaker resembled Bingham’s opponent in his previous elections, and the person sitting next to Bingham resembles the ex-governor of Missouri, Meredith Marmaduke.

Stump Speaking

  • Title:                      Stump Speaking
  • Artist:                    George Caleb Bingham
  • Date:                    1853-54
  • Medium:               Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:         Height: 108 cm (42.5″); Width: 147.3 cm (57.9″)
  • Museum:              Saint Louis Art Museum

“The Verdict of the People” by George Caleb Bingham

George Caleb Bingham - The Verdict of the People

“The Verdict of the People” by George Caleb Bingham

“The Verdict of the People” by George Caleb Bingham is the last painting of Bingham’s Election Series. This painting depicts the end of the story represented in the series by showing the climax of the electoral process and the announcement of the election results. Bingham depicts a densely crowded scene conveying the diversity of the voting populace in detail. Bingham also references the political issues of slavery, temperance, and a representative government, subjects that were of local and national relevance.

During the early 1850s, the temperance movement was growing, and more states were abolishing alcohol. A popular book at the time associated the cause of anti-slavery to that of temperance. Bingham showed his view on intemperance and slavery by painting a banner that said, “Freedom for Virtue” and  “Restriction for Vice.” The banner referred to temperance by saying that the vice and alcohol would need to be restricted for the people to be free.

“The Verdict of the People” shows the men gathered in the street to express both triumph and disappointment in the election results. Women who were not yet allowed to vote in Bingham’s time, look on from a balcony in the top right. Comedic elements and different narrative details have been included in the composition to appealed to the broader American national interest in life on the frontier.

The Verdict of the People

  • Title:                      The Verdict of the People
  • Artist:                    George Caleb Bingham
  • Date:                    1854
  • Medium:               Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:        116.8 × 139.7 cm (45.9 × 55 ″)
  • Museum:              Saint Louis Art Museum

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 American frontier life along the Missouri River exemplify the Luminist style. 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.

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.

George Caleb Bingham

~~~

“I was losing interest in politics
when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused me again.
What I have done since then is pretty well known.”
– Abraham Lincoln

~~~


Photo Credit: 1) George Caleb Bingham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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