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George Caleb Bingham: The Making of "The County Election

October 12, 2007 - March 9, 2008

 

The Saint Louis Art Museum is showing George Caleb Bingham: The Making of "The County Election," a captivating exhibition exploring the creation of the Missouri artist's celebrated painting, from October 12, 2007 through March 9, 2008. Nearly 30 drawings, prints and engraving plates, on view together with The County Election painting, reveal Bingham's careful process for producing one of his greatest successes.

The refined and highly detailed quality of the drawings featured in the exhibition demonstrates the attention Bingham devoted to the characterization of his figures. Used to work out various gestures and poses, the drawings were methodically executed with a three-step technique of pencil drawing, ink wash and dry brush. Their deliberate style indicates that they were part of an advanced stage of planning.

The County Election painting is the culmination of this thoughtful preparation. With his figures arranged in a powerful scene of democratic expression, Bingham capitalized on the national fascination with politics and satisfied the widespread taste for scenes of varied and contrasting characters.

The exhibition also includes images of the painting's underdrawings, exposed using infrared light. Although similar in scale and general outline to the drawings on paper, these underdrawings are more schematic and suggestive.

Bingham later transformed the The County Election painting into a widely circulated print, making the composition affordable and available to a larger portion of the population. In addition to maximizing awareness of his artistic talents, the populist distribution of his work expressed a core value of democracy, his very subject.

The County Election print was so successful that Bingham painted two additional election subjects, The Verdict of the People and Stump Speaking, producing a three-part Election Series. Prints of all three works are featured in the exhibition.

Curated by Andrew Walker, assistant director for curatorial affairs and curator of American art, and Janeen Turk, curatorial assistant, George Caleb Bingham: The Making of "The County Election" will be on view in Cohen Gallery (313. The exhibition is organized by the Saint Louis Art Museum and made possible by Bank of America.

 

Article from the Museum's October-December, 2007 Member Magazine

 
The artworks assembled in this fascinating exhibition invite visitors to experience the creation of The County Election by renowned Missouri painter George Caleb Bingham. The exhibition also illustrates how Bingham transformed the iconic painting into a widely-circulated print. Featured works include all known drawings for the painting, The County Election itself, and a number of related prints. Together these reveal Bingham's careful process for producing one of his greatest successes.
 
The refined and highly detailed quality of the 18 drawings in the exhibition demonstrates the attention Bingham devoted to the characterization of his figures. Used to work out various gestures and poses, the drawings were methodically executed with a three-step technique of pencil drawing, ink wash, and dry brush. Their incredibly deliberate style and finished state indicate that they were part of an advanced stage of planning.
 
The exhibition also includes images of the painting's underdrawings. Through infrared reflectography, a technique that uses infrared light to look through layers of paint, the drawings on the primed canvas are exposed. These underdrawings, although similar in scale and general outline to the drawings on paper, are more schematic and suggestive. They are an intermediate step between the drawings on paper and the final painted figures.
 
The County Election painting is the culmination of Bingham's thoughtful preparation. With his figures arranged in a powerful scene of democratic expression, Bingham created an extremely appealing subject. It capitalized on the national fascination with politics and satisfied the widespread taste for scenes of varied and contrasting characters.
 
Bingham continued The County Election project with a series of prints. By offering the composition for sale in this affordable medium, he was able to maximize awareness of his artistic prowess and increase his financial return. The County Election print was so successful that Bingham painted two more election subjects, producing a three-part Election Series. Prints of all three works, including a rare impression of The Verdict of the People, are featured in the exhibition. George Caleb Bingham: The Making of "The County Election" will be on view October 12, 2007, through March 9, 2008, in Cohen Gallery (313). The exhibition is made possible by the generosity of Bank of America. It is curated by Andrew Walker, assistant director for curatorial affairs and curator of American art, and Janeen Turk, curatorial assistant.
 
Sidebar:
 
Bank of America Lends Bingham-Related Material
 
The exhibition exploring Bingham's masterpiece The County Election would not have been possible without Bank of America's generous loan of engraving plates and printing proofs.
 
The two engraving plates featured in the exhibition (The County Election and Stump Speaking), combined with the many proofs for The County Election, show how this important series was disseminated throughout the nation. That wide distribution allowed many Americans to experience Bingham's originality. Making the works available to a larger audience also paralleled the subject of the series, the election process, which gave many Americans a voice in government.
 
Such generosity is not new for Bank of America. In 2001, the Bank donated to the Museum Bingham's celebrated three-painting cycle known as the Election Series, the artist's greatest achievement and a perennial favorite among visitors. The Bank wanted to find a permanent home for the series because of its historical and cultural significance to the people of Missouri. These wonderful paintings are now on view in Gallery 217.


History of the Bingham Trust

In 1974, the St. Louis Mercantile Library proposed selling 112 drawings by George Caleb Bingham, which it had held since 1868. Governor Christopher S. Bond organized a public subscription campaign to acquire the drawings permanently for Missouri, Bingham's home state. Exhibits and educational programs were held across the state, and over 50,000 school children, communities, businesses, individuals, charitable organizations, and the Legislature contributed to a fundraising campaign. By June 30, 1976, the people of Missouri had raised over $2,000,000 to purchase the drawings. Those drawings, plus an additional one later acquired from a Missouri family, are now held by the Bingham Trust. Approximately half the works are on loan to the Saint Louis Art Museum and the other half to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. For this reason whenever the drawings are exhibited today, they are credited as "Lent by the People of Missouri."


(above: George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811-1879; The County Election, 1851­52; oil on canvas; 35 7/16 x 48 3/4 inches; Museum Purchase 124:1944)

 

(above: George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811-1879; Persuasive Speaker, 1853­54; brush, black ink and wash over pencil on gray-green paper; 12 3/8 x 9 1/4 inches; Lent by the People of Missouri, General Purchase Funds)

 

(above: George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811-1879; Hearty Drinker; 1851­52; brush, black ink and wash over pencil; 11 1/4 x 9 inches; Lent by the People of Missouri, Gift of the First National Bank in St. Louis)


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