Another great American painter finally getting his due. A lesson to be learned here people. Sign your work! Maybe you will get recognition in your lifetime unlike Mr. Bingham who is only now 100 years later being celebrated. Here’s looking at you George!
George Caleb Bingham (March 20, 1811 – July 7, 1879) was an American artist whose paintings of American life in the frontier lands along the Missouri River exemplify the Luminist style. Left to languish in obscurity, Bingham’s work was rediscovered in the 1930s. He is now widely considered one of the greatest American painters of the 19th century and his centennial is being celebrated in 2011. That year the George Caleb Bingham Catalogue Raisonné Supplement Of Paintings & Drawings announced the authentication of ten recently discovered paintings by Bingham; like all but about 5% of his works, they are unsigned.
By 1838, Bingham was already beginning to make a name as a portrait artist in St. Louis, the major city of the territory; his studio was visited by several prominent local citizens and statesmen, including the lawyer James S. Rollins, who was to become a life-long friend. While he frequently worked in the city, Bingham kept his principal residence in Arrow Rock for years. To further his education, Bingham spent three months in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before continuing on to New York City to visit the National Academy of Design exhibition.
After moving his family to St. Louis permanently, in 1848 Bingham was elected to the Missouri General Assembly, one of the few artists to serve in elected political office. His interest in politics was reflected in his paintings of the vivid political life on the frontier. Bingham later took several state political appointments as well.
In 1856 Bingham moved to Europe with his second wife Eliza and youngest daughter. First they stayed in Paris for several months, where Bingham fulfilled a long-cherished desire and studied the Old Masters at the Louvre Museum, likely his chief reason for going abroad. They went on to Düsseldorf, Germany, where they lived until 1859, taking part in the Düsseldorf school of painting. Bingham lived and worked among the American and German artists of the art colony, among whom was the German-American Emanuel Leutze, the most prominent historical painter in the United States. (Washington Crossing the Delaware was then his most famous work.) Leutze was unusual for living in both countries and had an open studio in Düsseldorf, where he welcomed Bingham as a friend and already successful artist. While in Germany, Bingham worked on important commissions from the Missouri State Legislature, as well as independent paintings.
Upon his return to America, Bingham began painting more portraits, which had always been his “bread and butter” work. He also returned to politics. During the American Civil War, Bingham was appointed State Treasurer of Missouri.
He continued to stay involved in politics in the post-Civil War years through political appointments. In 1874, he was appointed president of Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, and appointed the first chief of police there. In 1875, the governor appointed Bingham as Adjutant-General of Missouri, and thereafter he was often referred to as General Bingham.