The bust of George Caleb Bingham is part of the Boonville Outdoor Art Project
Through the courtesy of Boonville Daily News:
By Theresa Schweitzer Krebs
He rubbed shoulders with the social elite, was elected to public office and used his art not only to make a living, but also to create a visual history of life on the Missouri River and occasionally, to make a political statement.
George Caleb Bingham, (1811-1879), was a Boonslick transplant, moving to Franklin, Mo. from Virginia at the age of 8. In 1823, with the death of his father, the family moved to a farm near Arrow Rock, overlooking the Missouri River. At 16, he was apprenticed to a cabinet maker, a vocation that led to sign painting. By the age of 22, Bingham was "an itinerate portrait painter," said Robert Bussabarger, an art professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
"He was good friends with (University president Richard Henry) Jesse," explained Bussabarger. "Bingham was living in Columbia at the time and was well-known as an artist, so Jesse asked him to teach."
Bingham became the University's first art professor, teaching from 1877-79. The Bingham Gallery on the Columbia campus was established in his honor in 1989.
Although he had little art education himself - Bingham studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for a short time in 1837, and Dusseldorf during his European travels from 1856-59 - "with Thomas Hart Benton, he is Missouri's claim to fame in terms of the art world," said Bussabarger. "He's a very important figure."
In addition to painting the local gentry - according to Bussabarger, Bingham was known to paint his subject's bodies in advance of their appointment in order to save time, adding heads and hands after meeting them in person - Bingham commemorated life on the river, painting men not at work, but dancing, making music, playing cards, fishing or engaged in conversation. The figures are vigorously drawn, in a linear style with large areas of strong color, providing a lyrical insight into
After joining the Union army, Bingham used his art for political commentary, commemorating General Thomas Ewing's Order No. 11, in what was viewed as one of the most drastic military measures directed against civilians by the Union Army during the Civil War. However, its defenders viewed the order as a necessary force to end the guerrilla raids with Kansas.
On August 21, 1863, the Missouri Quantrill bushwackers attacked Lawrence, Kan., killing over 150 men and destroying more than 180 buildings. Ewing's order - regarded as an act of retaliation for this massacre - was issued four days later.
Order No. 11 was in effect an eviction notice to all people of the area, (Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon counties), demanding proof of their loyalty to the Union cause. As a result, Ewing's decree served to virtually depopulate the area: the census of Cass County dropped from 10,000 inhabitants to just 600.
Appalled by the consequences of Order No. 11, Bingham wrote to Gen. Ewing, "If you execute this order, I shall make you infamous with pen and brush," and in 1868 created the picture of Ewing's crime. Frank James, a participant in the Kansas raid, is said to have commented, "This is a picture that talks."
The painting shows Ewing, astride a horse, supervising his troops as they expel a Missouri family from their home. A Kansas Red Leg has just shot a young man, while one of the Union soldiers, pillaging the house, bears a resemblance to Col. Charles Jennison, a noted jayhawker.
The image was considered mediocre art, but excellent propaganda, and is credited with doing more than anything else to create the popular conception of Order No. 11.
From Washington, DC - his portrait of John Quincy Adams hangs in the White House - to the Metropolitan Museum, Bingham's works are displayed in galleries across the country, including St. Louis and Kansas City, and are still enjoyed today.
Boonville Daily News
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More about George Caleb Bingham
Bingham's work owned by the State Historical Society
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