Missouri moments told in art — hundreds of paintings by one of the state’s most celebrated artists — could soon be online and free to the public.
The goal is a comprehensive catalogue raisonné to document George Caleb Bingham’s body of work “so that it becomes the defining reference,” said Rachael Blackburn Cozad, of Kansas City, who is leading the effort.
“We are intending for this to be a new public resource,” Cozad said. “If you are a sixth grader and doing a report … an appraiser, a historian, a scholar … there are any number of people who would benefit from having this as a free public resource.”
Bingham’s work is found in the country’s top museums today — the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; and in the White House. However, much of it remains in Missouri, including at the St. Louis Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City, the Springfield Art Museum and the State Historical Society.
Bingham is best known for two groups of paintings depicting aspects of 19th-century Missouri life — boatmen on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and also a series on local elections.
“I have never come across a survey of American art that did not contain a work of either the election series or a river boatman,” Melissa Wolfe, curator and head of the department of American art at the St. Louis Art Museum, said in an interview last week.
Born in 1811, Bingham arrived in Missouri as a child in 1819. He got his start as an artist in the decades before the Civil War, wandering Missouri towns as an itinerant portrait painter “because that is what would sell,” Wolfe said.
“Portraiture was really his bread and butter, especially during the early years,” Cozad added. “Some of his early pieces are quite stylized in a folk-art style.”
Using some of that money, Bingham eventually made it to…