George Caleb Bingham is known as the Missouri painter, both because he lived in Missouri, but more importantly, because he painted Missouri life. Two years ago the Saint Louis Art Museum held an interesting retrospective about him and his works. Included in the show were almost all of his more famous paintings, but also and what made this show really interesting, many of his figure drawings that he used to help create his paintings were shown too. “The Wood-Boat” is one of his simpler and straight forward works. Most of Bingham’s paintings tell a story some tell many stories. In this painting are three figures waiting on the river, for the next passing riverboat. In the 1850s the wood that they have to sell is fuel for passing steamboats and this commerce is their livelihood. Flanking the painting are two of Bingham’s figure drawings that were used to create the painting. Bingham often repainted and resold his art and these drawings helped him maintain his artistic quality. Later in life, he fell on hard times and had to sell his sketchbook of drawings. His subsequent art suffered from the lack of these study aids. Fortunately for us, his collection of drawings has been kept intact and will remain in state. The celebration of this achievement was the purpose of the SLAM show.
I had been meaning to post these pictures for a while, but time and other events pushed them aside. Today is Election Day in Missouri, where voter here vote in the presidential primaries. Searching through my photo library I had plan on using one of Bingham’s “election series,” paintings. This series includes “Stump Speaking”, 1853-54; “The County Election”, 1852; and “The Verdict of the People” ,1854-55. They depict the three stages of the 19th-century election process and are among the best known Bingham works. It is surprising how little things have changed in politics. I remembered “The Wood-Boat” triptych though and decided to go with that instead.