GEORGE CALEB BINGHAM (1811–1879)
Landscape: Rural Scenery, 1845
Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 in.
Signed (at lower left): G. C. Bingham
RECORDED: John Francis McDermott, George Caleb Bingham: River Portraitist (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959), pp. 50, 54, 413–14 // E. Maurice Bloch, George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1986), pp. 65 illus, 173 no. 163 // Nancy Rash, The Painting and Politics of George Caleb Bingham (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), 40-41, 54-57 (illustrated), 59; Michael Edward Shapiro, George Caleb Bingham (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993), 42 (illustrated), 45, 51.
EXHIBITED: American Art-Union, New York, 1845, no. 102 // St. Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, and traveling, February–September 1990, George Caleb Bingham, pp. 97, 100, 146 plate 22 // Amon Carter Museum of Art, Fort Worth, Texas, and traveling, October 2014–January 2015, Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River, pp. 14 plate 1 illus. in color, 55, 102
EX COLL.: [American Art-Union, New York, 1845], no. 102; to James Thompson, New York, 1845; private collection, Pittsburgh, until 1974; Craig Libhart, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, May 1974; [Vose Galleries, Boston, 1976]; Barbara Bingham Moore, Washington, D. C., 1976–2008
The 1845 exhibition of the American Art-Union was a turning point in George Caleb Bingham’s career. A lottery system in which subscribers from across the country made possible the purchase and distribution of American paintings, the Art-Union was a godsend to artists like Bingham, who lacked sufficient patronage and exposure, when it opened in 1839. Probably encouraged by the Art-Union’s stated goal of selecting works “illustrative of American scenery and American manners,” the portrait painter Bingham took up these unfamiliar subjects, submitting two landscapes and two genre scenes.
One of Bingham’s Art-Union paintings, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), is now considered a masterpiece of American genre painting. Together with what is probably its pendant, The Concealed Enemy (Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas), it offered a vision of life on the Western frontier during Bingham’s childhood in Missouri. The two landscapes, Cottage Scenery (Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) and the present work, Landscape: Rural Scenery, conveyed the environment in which settlers like Bingham’s own family lived. Eastern audiences were eager to see such images, and following his Art-Union success in 1845, Bingham continued to paint the Western frontier scenes for which he is best known today.
Like many early American landscape painters, Bingham emulated the style of late 18th-century English artists. George Morland’s prints of cottage scenes informed the composition and mood of Cottage Scenery, while in Landscape: Rural Scenery, the silhouetted branches and foliage patterns show the influence of the English-born artist Joshua Shaw, whom Bingham may have met in Philadelphia. Despite his English stylistic sources, Bingham conveyed the unadulterated character of the early American landscape and the simple conditions in which settlers lived. The bright blue sky and the presence of the figures washing in the river suggest a harmonious relationship between the settlers and the wilderness that surrounds them.