Background: George Caleb Bingham was born on March 20, 1811 in Augusta County, Virginia. He was an American artist whose paintings of American life in the frontier lands along the Missouri Riverexemplify the Luminist style. Left to languish in obscurity, Bingham’s work was rediscovered in the 1930s. By the time of his bicentennial in 2011, he was considered one of the greatest American painters of the 19th century. 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.
Education: George Bingham was a self-taught artist. His sole childhood exposure to the field was as a nine-year-old boy, when famed American portraitist Chester Hardingvisited Franklin looking for business, having recently sketched Daniel Boone in Warren County, Missouri. George assisted Harding during his brief stay, an experience that left a powerful impression
Achievements: By age nineteen, Bingham was painting portraits for $20.00 apiece, often completing the works in a single day. He drummed up work in both Franklin and Arrow Rock and, while his painting abilities were still developing, succeeded in impressing his patrons with his strong draftsmanship and ability to capture the likeness of his subject. Soon Bingham was ready to travel to St. Louis to ply his trade but contracted measles. The illness left him weak and permanently bald
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 lifelong 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.