Press release: Saint Louis Art Museum will present ‘Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River’

By | January 27, 2015

ST. LOUIS, Jan. 27 —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.

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.

Important works of art loaned to the exhibition include Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Jolly Flatboatmen, from the Manoogian Collection; Portrait of Leonidas Wetmore, from the U.S. Department of State; and Boatmen on the Missouri, from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Beyond the genre subjects, the exhibition also includes Bingham’s early portraits featuring rivers, allowing for an examination of the ways in which proximity to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers shaped his career and art production, even before he turned to his river workers.

Two of Bingham’s river compositions–In a Quandary and The Jolly Flatboatmen–also were circulated as prints. These prints allowed Bingham’s work to reach a much wider audience than the paintings ever could. Impressions of these prints will be included in the exhibition as well.

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.

The exhibition opens to the public on Sunday, Feb. 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.)

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.

In St. Louis, the exhibition opening coincides with Navigating the Changing Nation: The River and Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Art, a scholarly symposium exploring the social and artistic importance of America’s rivers pictured in paintings, drawings, and prints of the 1800s. The symposium is held at the Art Museum on Feb. 20-21.

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.

The exhibition is accompanied by a scholarly, full-color catalogue, Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River (ISBN 978-0-300-20670-8). It includes two landmark essays investigating Bingham’s creative process through comparisons of infrared images of 17 of his paintings with both his preparatory drawings and the completed works, casting new light on his process. The 200-page catalogue is published by the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and distributed by Yale University Press. The retail price of the hardcover catalogue is $45.

CONTACT: Matthew Hathaway, 314.655.5493,