GEORGE CALEB BINGHAM (1811–1879)]
Woodboatmen on a River [Western Boatmen Ashore by Night], 1854
Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 in.
Signed and dated (at lower left): G. C. Bingham / 1854
RECORDED: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Paintings 1815 to 1865 (1949), pp. 108, 109 no. 55 illus., 110 // John Francis McDermott, George Caleb Bingham, River Portraitist (1959), pp. 114, 244 pl. 47 illus., 418, no. 82, as “Flatboatmen by Night” // E. Maurice Bloch, George Caleb Bingham: The Evolution of an Artist (1967), pp. 107–12 passim., pl. 70 detail illus., pl. 72 illus. in color, as “Western Boatmen Ashore by Night” // E. Maurice Bloch, George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné (1967), pp. 92 no. 235 // Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, American Paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, vol. I (1967), p. 30 no. 132; II, p. 184 fig. 284 illus. // Herman Warner Williams, Jr., Mirror to the American Past: A Survey of American Genre Painting, 1750–1900 (1973), p. 88 // E. Maurice Bloch, The Drawings of George Caleb Bingham, With a Catalogue Raisonné (1975), p. 156 pl. XI illus. // Albert Christ-Janer, George Caleb Bingham: Frontier Painter of Missouri (1975), pl. 63 illus. in color // E. Maurice Bloch, The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné (1986), pp. 96 no. 275 illus., 204 // Linda Ayres et al., American Paintings: Selections from the Amon Carter Museum (1986), pp. 32–33 illus. in color // Nancy Rash, The Painting & Politics of George Caleb Bingham (1991), p. 246 n. 67 // Michael Edward Shapiro, George Caleb Bingham (1993), pp. 67 illus., 69
EXHIBITED: National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D. C.; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; and The Art Galleries, University of California at Los Angeles, 1967–68, George Caleb Bingham, 1811–1879, pp. 57–58 no. 27 // The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.; The City Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri; and The Seattle Art Museum, Washington, 1970–71, Great American Paintings from the Boston and Metropolitan Museums, no. 42 // Haags Gemenntemuseum, The Hague, The Netherlands; Kunsthaus, Zürich, Switzerland; Villa Hugel, Essen, Germany; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium; and Österreichisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna, Austria, 1976–77, Frontier America: The Far West, no. 214 // Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, and Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, 1987–88, American Frontier Life: Early Western Painting and Prints, pp. 32 no. 17 illus. in color, 33, 35 // Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2009–10, The Moon: “Houston, Tranquility Base Here. The Eagle Has Landed”, not in cat. // Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas; Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2014–15, Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River, pp. 65, 127 detail illus. in color, 160 pl. 45 illus. in color, lent by Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York
EX COLL.: Col. J. L. D. Morrison, St. Louis, Missouri; Charles Holmes, about 1865; to Alfred Clifford, about 1885; by descent to Oliver M. Clifford, St. Louis, 1927; [Safrom Galleries, New York, 1944]; to Maxim Karolik, Newport, Rhode Island, 1945; by gift to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1948–83; to [Kennedy Galleries, New York, 1983–84]; to Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1984–2001
Most scholars agree that the finest period of Bingham’s career is between 1845 and 1856, from when he started painting his river scenes to his departure for Europe. The most celebrated of the pictures from this period are his riverboat scenes, almost all of which are in public collections. The appearance of these works on the market is extremely rare. The present picture has resided in public collections for more than 50 years, and has been recorded in virtually every major publication on the artist. Woodboatmen on a River is also one of the most distinctive of Bingham’s series of flatboat pictures. Only one other nighttime boat scene by Bingham, Woodboatmen on a River [Watching the Cargo at Night] (1854, Joslyn Museum of Art, Omaha, Nebraska), is known.
Woodboatmen on a River was painted in 1854, two years before Bingham left for Europe. In the picture, Bingham represents several boatmen making camp along the river’s edge, remaining awake to guard over their boat’s precious cargo of wood, probably bound for New Orleans.