Rural Missouri - September 2011 - (Page 25)
The Missouri Artist
such as Carl Wimar, Alfred Jacob Miller and George Catlin — who passed through St. Louis in search of American Indians, Bingham never traveled west of Kansas City. He painted scenes and people that were familiar, recording the early years of the state as he knew it. In 1851, the editor of the Western Journal in St. Louis wrote, “Bingham’s style is one which is now rapidly forming a school of pure American art.” Average in size — 5 feet, 8 inches tall and about 150 pounds — Bingham still stood out. He wore a wig (the smallpox he survived at 19 left him bald) and had a ﬁery disposition. Bingham also had a passion for politics. He believed strongly in democracy and the political process. He served as a Saline County representative in 1848, and he represented Missouri’s 8th District at the Whig National Convention in 1852. Later, from 1856 to 1859, he traveled to Europe, where he visited the Louvre, the reknowned art gallery in Paris, studied painting and practiced his art in Düsseldorf. During the spring of 1861, Bingham became more and more disturbed with the political situation in America. In March 1861, he wrote, “I am tired of submission to traitors. If they will force a war, I am for giving them enough of it.” When the Civil War ﬁnally broke out, Bingham sided with the Union. “I am conditionally for men though unconditionally for the Union,” he declared. In January 1862, Gov. Hamilton Gamble asked him to be state treasurer. “But I don’t know anything about money,” Bingham responded. “I can’t even keep my own. I’m a painter, not a banker.” “If I had wanted a banker, I’d have asked one,” Gamble replied. Bingham served as Missouri’s treasurer until 1865. Afterward, he moved to Independence and then to Kansas City. In 1875, he was appointed Missouri’s adjutant general, and in 1876, he lobbied In his painting, “The County Election,” George Caleb Bingham portrays a group of rowdy voters as part of the proCongress to grant Missouri money to pay its state cess of democracy. The painting depicts Election Day 1850 in Saline County. militia for its service. In 1877, the University of Missouri appointed him sions were depicted with grim portraits. Yet, in the by Svetlana Grobman as the ﬁrst professor of its newly established School highest tradition of portraiture, he achieved email@example.com of Art. However, with his health on the decline, he sive characterizations of his subjects. Nearly every died two years later on July 7, 1879. Missouri family of consequence sat for Bingham. ach American state is unique, but not every Across the nation, obituaries and editorials In 1837, Bingham studied brieﬂy at the state can claim a major artist whose name is were published upon Bingham’s death. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. synonymous with it. Missouri is one of the Kansas City Mail, wrote, “No man was betLater, he opened a studio in Washington, lucky ones — artist George Caleb Bingham, ter known in Missouri either as an artist, D.C., where he painted such famous known during his lifetime as “the Missouri Artist,” as a powerful writer or as a patriot of statesmen as John Quincy Adams, called the state his home. incorruptible integrity.” Yet, in later Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, Bingham was born on March 20, 1811, into a years, the “Missouri Artist” was nearly Martin van Buren and others. prosperous Virginia family. When he was 8 years old, forgotten. His reputation was revived At ﬁrst, Bingham didn’t paint his family suffered a ﬁnancial setback and moved to in 1933, when the Metropolitan Musehands, and it took years for him to Missouri, settling in Franklin. Franklin was a boomum of Art in New York City bought develop his personal color scheme. In ing town, with good schools, a library, a general his most famous painting, “Fur Traders an 1849 biographical sketch, he conland ofﬁce and even a jockey club. However, the Descending the Missouri,” which he fessed to starting out “in total darkness family suffered another setback there in 1823 when completed while living in Arrow Rock. in regard to color.” In 1944, a chief curaGeorge’s father died, and the family moved to a farm During his lifetime, Bingham protor of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in near Arrow Rock. George and his brothers became duced remarkable drawings, portraits, Kansas City observed that Bingham’s the primary support for the family, which once again landscapes and scenes of social and palette of “muted off-shades, bluelived under reduced circumstances. George didn’t George Caleb Bingham political life on the frontier. Today, greens, sage-greens, plums, cerises have the health for farm work, and at 16, he became March 20, 1811 — July 7, 1879 200 years after Bingham’s birth, most and cool pinks,” although unorthoan apprentice to a Boonville cabinetmaker. He also of his art is still in Missouri — St. Louis, Kansas City, dox, was “carefully ordered and sensitively related.” considered studying law, but he changed his mind Jefferson City and Columbia, to name a few. Other In 1848, Bingham settled in Kansas City. By that after meeting an itinerant portrait painter. George’s works are displayed in New York, Boston, Los Angeles time, he had developed an interest in genre painting, afﬁnity for drawing manifested itself at an early age, and Washington, D.C., including the White House although he continued painting portraits, which he and he decided to become a painter. and the Smithsonian Institution. As the Kansas City called “pot boilers.” His search for portrait commisEarly in his career, Bingham was self-taught. He Daily Journal wrote upon his death, “He has left a sions often took him to the Missouri River. From the started by painting signs. He executed his ﬁrst porrich legacy behind him which will secure him fame deck of a steamboat, Bingham observed the dugouts traits with house paint and the stumps of brushes left as an artist for all time to come.” and rafts loaded with beaver pelts and buffalo hides, by the journeying artist. Bingham didn’t believe in the activities of the boatmen and the life of the river beautifying his subjects. In his thousand or so porGrobman is a freelance writer who lives in Columbia. towns. Unlike many of his artistic contemporaries — trait commissions, the sitters who wore grim expres-
Artist and statesman George Caleb Bingham captured scenes of social and political life on the frontier
This Federal-style home served as the Bingham’s home for nearly a decade in the mid-1800s.
photos courtesy of Missouri State Parks
he town of Arrow Rock was home to artist George Caleb Bingham and his wife, Sarah, from 1837 to 1845. Purchased by the state of Missouri in 1934, the George Caleb Bingham House is a brick home that has been restored as it might have been when he lived there. The home has been designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service and is open for free tours. For more information, contact Arrow Rock State Park at 660-837-3330 or go to www.tinyurl.com/3mse8zc. The home is furnished as it would have been when the Binghams lived in Arrow Rock.
painting and portrait courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - September 2011
Rural Missouri - September 2011
Table of Contents
The story behind the stories
Hemp bales and history
Out of the Way Eats
Open up and say ‘neigh!’
Back to the one-room school
Hearth and Home
The Missouri artist
Rural Missouri - September 2011
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