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Raftsmen Playing Cards

George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811–1879
Oil on canvas
Made in
Missouri, United States, North and Central America
United States, North and Central America
Current Location
On View, Gallery 337
28 1/16 x 38 1/16 in. (71.3 x 96.7 cm)
framed: 37 3/4 x 47 3/4 x 3 1/2 in. (95.9 x 121.3 x 8.9 cm)
Credit Line
Bequest of Ezra H. Linley by exchange
Public Domain
Object Number
George Caleb Bingham, a Missouri artist, began his career as an essentially self-taught portrait painter, but eventually turned to genre painting, which he saw as an outlet for his fascination with the subjects found along Missouri's rivers. This painting is an idealized scene of river life in Missouri during the 1840s. It depicts a quiet moment of leisure among six raftsmen aboard a simple raft. While most of the men are preoccupied with the card game, one man gently glides the boat along the calm, mirrored surface of the water, while another seems absorbed in thought. Always attentive to detail, Bingham emphasizes this casual atmosphere by depicting two of the men barefoot, with a pair of discarded shoes visible at right, and the charred remains of the previous night's fire in the foreground. The artist even invites the viewer to participate in this intimate occasion by placing the viewer at the foot of the raft.
American Art-Union, New York, purchased from the artist [1]

1847 -
Edwin Croswell (1797-1871), Albany, NY, acquired from the American Art-Union [2]

- 1908
Frances Cooley Hammond (b.1864), Pittsfield, MA [3]

1908 - 1934
Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA, given by Frances Cooley Hammond [4]

1934 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, purchased from Berkshire Museum [5]

The main source for this provenance is Bloch's catalogue raisonné, the 1986 edition, cat. no. 180 [Bloch, E. Maurice. "The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné." Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1986]. Exceptions and other supporting documents are noted.

[1] George Caleb Bingham sold "Raftsmen Playing Cards" to the American Art-Union for $300. Bloch states that the sale occurred on October 9, 1847, while another source states that its purchase was authorized by the AAU committee May 26, 1947 [McDermott, John Francis. “George Caleb Bingham: River Portraitist.” Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959, p. 61].

[2] The American Art-Union awarded "Raftsmen Playing Cards" to Edwin Croswell during its annual art lottery on December 12, 1847 [American Art-Union. “American Art-Union Transactions, 1847.” New York: G.F. Nesbitt, 1848, p. 36].

[3] Frances Cooley Hammond donated "Raftsmen Playing Cards" to the Berkshire Museum on February 27, 1908 [Berkshire Museum Ledger].

[4] See note [3].

[5] Minutes of the Administrative Board of Control of the City Art Museum, October 4, 1934.
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