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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Fur Traders Descending the Missouri” by George Caleb Bingham

"Fur Traders Descending the Missouri" by George Caleb Bingham

“Fur Traders Descending the Missouri” by George Caleb Bingham

“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 government has recognised them as a distinct group with a status similar to First Nations. 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 shows the Luminist style. Bingham’s work was rediscovered in the 1930s, and by the time of his bicentennial in 2011, he was considered one of the greatest American painters of the 19th century. With his increased popularity, twenty-three newly discovered paintings by Bingham have been authenticated.

French Louisiana

French Louisiana was an administrative district of New France. Under French control 1682 to 1762 and 1801 to 1803, the area was named in honour of King Louis XIV. It originally covered an expansive territory that included most of the drainage basin of the Mississippi River and stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains. The U.S. state of Louisiana is named for the historical region, although it is only a small part of the vast lands claimed by France.

As a result of France’s defeat in the Seven Years’ War, France was forced to cede the east part of the territory in 1763 to the British. In the western region, territory went to Spain as compensation for Spain losing Florida. France regained sovereignty of the territory of the west in the secret Third Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1800. But strained by obligations in Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte sold the land to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, ending France’s presence in Louisiana.

The Métis are members of ethnic groups that trace their descent to both indigenous North Americans and European settlers. Originally the term applied to French-speaking mixed-race families.

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.

Luminism Art Style

The Luminism Art Style is an American landscape painting style of the 1850s – 1870s, characterised 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

Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

  • Title:                    Fur Traders Descending the Missouri
  • Originally:           French Trader, Half-breed Son.
  • Artist:                  George Caleb Bingham
  • Date:                   1845
  • Medium:             Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:        73.5 × 93 cm (28.9 × 36.6 in)
  • Museum:             Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

George Caleb Bingham

  • Name:               George Caleb Bingham
  • Born:                 1811 – Augusta County, Virginia
  • Died:                 1879 (aged 68) – Kansas City, Missouri
  • Nationality:       American
  • Movement:       Luminism
  • Notable works:

Explore the American Wing Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Reflections

  • Does this painting recall a foundation era in American history?
  • Are the mixed-race unions between First Nations people and colonial-era European settlers, usually indigenous women and settler men, any different to the mixed-race unions throughout history?
  • A unique perspective of frontier life along the Missouri River.

~~~

“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)  [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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