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George Caleb Bingham: A Newly Discovered American Treasure

George Caleb Bingham was an American known as the Missouri Artist. He fought in the Civil War in the Union army and afterwards held several offices in Kansas City. Bingham became famous for his paintings of frontier life, especially along the Missouri river. Unfortunately, he was not recognized during his lifetime, but found fame in the later 1900s.

Bingham’s childhood involved a great deal of financial bad luck and frequent moves around the Midwest. He was homeschooled and taught himself art as a young man, although he would attend an art academy much later in his life. In his early career, he was able to establish himself as a portrait artist known for being able to get paintings done quickly and with an uncanny likeness to the subject. The theme of the untamed frontier emerged in most of Bingham’s later pieces. He was married three time and had four children by his first wife. Politics were also a big part of his life, as he became a state representative for Missouri.

Once he moved past painting portraits for commission, he began to focus more on the life around him.  The subjects were often groups of working people, engaged in some kind of community life or traversing the river water. He painted them in such detail and with a realistic tone that they captivated audiences. They were what would be later called examples of the Luminist style. Unfortunately at his passing, he was not an acclaimed artist and it would be one hundred years almost before he got the kind of recognition he deserved.

Fur-traders Descending the Missouri and Boatmen on the Missouri show the deep admiration he had for the river he grew up on. Comradery is also a theme and is carried over into The Wood-Boat. His portraits early in his career include Self-Portrait and Portrait of Lord Loenidas Wetmore. There are also scenes of famous historical figures, such as Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers Through the Cumberland Gap and Washington Crossing the Delaware.  He shows all of his subjects in such dramatic and beautiful detail, that they become breathtaking pieces of art.  Take some time to browse the George Caleb Bingham gallery, we are sure you will find something perfect for your home.

Amanda Hadley

About the Author

Amanda graduated from the University of Kansas, where she studied English literature and got a masters degree in library sciences. She enjoys reading, cooking and playing with her nephews. Her best friend is her little dog Brady.