George Caleb Bingham

George Bingham was an American portrait and genre painter whose artwork is considered an iconic representation of the American West. Originally born in Augusta County, Virginia in 1811 on his grandfather’s farm, Bingham’s family moved to Franklin, Missouri where they opened a tavern and purchased a farm near Arrow Rock, Missouri. It was here in this tavern that Bingham began to show interest in painting when artist Chester Harding visited while painting Daniel Boone. Bingham was assigned by his father to attend to the artist’s needs while he resided at the tavern which gave him ample time to watch Harding. Through his youth, Bingham studied religion, preached, and read law until 1830, but his skill at drawing and yearning to paint overtook his other interests. By the age of 19, he was painting portraits and began developing patrons and a strong reputation for himself very early on in his painting career. In 1836, Bingham married Sarah Elizabeth Hutchison and they had four children. In 1846, he was elected as a pro-expansion Whig to the state legislature and in 1848 was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. Despite his political career, he continued painting not only portraits but boatman, fur traders and groups of people in certain genres. He also created a series of “Election” pictures that created a stir. The uniformity and geometric organization that was represented in Bingham’s paintings were unique to the nineteenth-century painters.

Largely self-taught in his youth, Bingham visited Dusseldorf in 1856 with his wife and daughter. While there he opened a studio and studied with a few artists, but returned again in 1859 to Missouri. He lived a nomadic life, never settling down for too long in one spot though he tended to reside mostly in Missouri. In 1877, Bingham was appointed the first professor of art at the University of Missouri, in Columbia which was a great opportunity for students to observe him while painting. Two years later, Bingham contracted pneumonia and in a weakened state, passed away from an intestinal disease in Kansas City later that year. During his life of painting, politics, and travel, he produced at least 494 paintings and 126 drawings. George Bingham is still seen as one of America’s finest painters of the American West and Missouri River, so much so that he was dubbed the “Missouri Artist”.