The Art Museum celebrates ‘the Missouri artist’ with Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River

By | January 27, 2015
George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811–1879; Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, 1845; oil on canvas; 29 1/4 x 36 1/4 inches; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Morris K. Jesup Fund, 1933 (33.61); Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811–1879; Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, 1845; oil on canvas; 29 1/4 x 36 1/4 inches; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Morris K. Jesup Fund, 1933 (33.61); Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811–1879; Self Portrait, 1834-35; oil on canvas; 28 3/8 x 22 11/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillanTrust 57:1934

George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811–1879; Self Portrait, 1834-35; oil on canvas; 28 3/8 x 22 11/16 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillanTrust 57:1934

The Saint Louis Art Museum next month will present Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River, an exhibition that for the first time in decades brings together the river paintings and drawings of George Caleb Bingham.

Dubbed “the Missouri artist,” Bingham (1811-1879) moved to the state as a child and, by the 1840s, began painting the scenes of western life for which he is now famous. Through 22 paintings and 50 drawings, Navigating the West focuses on Bingham’s iconic depictions of frontier life on and along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Navigating the West is the most extensive and ambitious of three coinciding exhibitions exploring multiple visions of landscape and the river in 19th-century American art. Visitors to Navigating the West are invited to enjoy the free exhibitions Scenic Wonder: An Early American Journey Down the Hudson River and Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life.

The exhibition opens to the public on Sunday, February 22 and runs through May 17. Ticket prices for the general public are $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, and $6 for children ages 6 to 12. Children under the age of 6 are free. Members receive free tickets to Navigating the West, and the exhibition is free for all visitors on Fridays. (Tickets purchased or reserved through MetroTix will be assessed a service fee.)

George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811–1879; The Jolly Flatboatmen, 1846; oil on canvas; 38 1/8 x 48 1/2 inches; Manoogian Collection

George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811–1879; The Jolly Flatboatmen, 1846; oil on canvas; 38 1/8 x 48 1/2 inches; Manoogian Collection

For Navigating the West, Bingham masterworks from institutions across the nation will join iconic paintings from the Art Museum’s American collection, including Raftsmen Playing Cards, The Wood-boat and Jolly Flatboatmen in Port. Even longtime fans of these works will see them in a new light, as part of Bingham’s larger consideration of the river.

Navigating the West also includes the recently restored Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley. Painted by artist John J. Egan around 1850, at the same time as Bingham’s masterworks, the 348-foot-long Panorama also depicts life on and along the western rivers.

In St. Louis, the exhibition opening coincides with Navigating the Changing Nation: The River and Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Art, a symposium exploring the social and artistic importance of America’s rivers pictured in paintings, drawings, and prints of the 1800s. The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color catalogue, Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River (ISBN 978-0-300-20670-8).

George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811–1879; Boatmen on the Missouri, 1846; oil on canvas; 25 x 30 inches; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III 1979.7.15

George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811–1879; Boatmen on the Missouri, 1846; oil on canvas; 25 x 30 inches; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III 1979.7.15

Navigating the West is co-organized by the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and the exhibition will travel to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in June.

The exhibition was created by the curatorial and conservation team of Claire Barry, director of conservation at the Kimbell Art Museum; Margaret C. Conrads, deputy director of art and research at the Amon Carter; Nancy Heugh, paper conservator at the Saint Louis Art Museum; Nenette Luarca-Shoaf, independent curator; Shirley Reece-Hughes, associate curator, paintings and sculpture at the Amon Carter; Janeen Turk, assistant curator of American art at the Saint Louis Art Museum; and Andrew J. Walker, director of the Amon Carter.

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