George Caleb Bingham
1811 – 1879
Though George Caleb Bingham only lived in Columbia sporadically, the city played an important part in his career as a painter and politician. This was due in no small part to the fact the Columbia was the home of Bingham’s lifelong friend and patron, James Sidney Rollins (1812-1888).
Born in Virginia, Bingham moved with his family to Franklin, Missouri, in 1819. There, he had the opportunity to meet the American artist Chester Harding. Inspired by Harding and encouraged by his mother, Mary Amend Bingham, George began life as an itinerant portrait painter while he was in his early 20s. For the rest of his life, the artist rarely lived on one place for long. Bingham’s career would take him to such places as Washington DC, St. Louis, New York, Philadelphia and Europe.
It was while working in Columbia that Bingham met Rollins. Rollins, who would go on to serve in both the Missouri legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives, introduced his friend to influential people in Missouri and Washington DC. Many of them would commission Bingham portraits. A prominent member of the Whig Party, Rollins also encouraged the young artist to become active in politics. Bingham remained passionate about politics throughout his life, serving as a Missouri State Representative, State Treasurer and Adjutant General. Politics became a major theme in Bingham’s work and inspirited some of his most famous works, including The County Election, The Verdict of the People (which features the Boone County Courthouse, a building in which Bingham briefly had a studio), and Order No. 11.
Throughout his life, Bingham suffered a number of personal and financial difficulties. He outlived two wives and four of his children. Through Rollins’s influence, Bingham received a commission to paint large paintings for the Missouri State Capitol. He was also appointed to become the first professor of art at the University of Missouri, a school Rollins was instrumental in helping to establish.
George Caleb Bingham died in 1879 in Kansas City and is buried in Union Cemetery there.