This exhibition occurred in the past. The archival exhibition summary below describes the exhibition as it was conceived while on view.
The exhibition Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River brings together the river paintings of George Caleb Bingham for the first time in decades. The exhibition also will present the artist’s paintings depicting the river in the context of his river-related drawings and prints.
Masterworks from institutions across the nation will join popular and important paintings from the Museum’s American collection for this exhibition. These paintings — Raftsmen Playing Cards, The Wood-boat and, in particular, Jolly Flatboatmen in Port — have long been highlights of the Museum’s collection. But even longtime fans of these works will see them in a new light, as part of Bingham’s larger consideration of the river and life along it.
Beyond the genre subjects, the exhibition also includes Bingham’s early portraits, 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 iconic river workers.
Another topic highlighted in the exhibition is Bingham’s artistic process. Conservation research investigating the surfaces of Bingham’s drawings and under layers of paint on his canvases has brought to light a stunning new understanding of the artist’s composition practice and allows the viewer to experience his mind and hand at work. Bingham drew multiple versions of some of his figures, trying out adjustments to the figures’ poses, expressions, and gestures. Bingham even re-used a number of his drawings, tracing the figure on the back side of the paper in order to have a model in a “reversed” pose. He transferred the drawn figures from the sheet of paper to the canvas. These drawings on the canvas are now concealed under the paint layers, but using a process called infrared reflectography, the research team was able to view them and learn even more about the ways the artist edited himself and worked up to his final composition.
Two of Bingham’s river compositions—In a Quandary and Jolly Flatboatmen—also were circulated as prints. Having these prints made allowed Bingham’s work to reach a much wider audience than the paintings could have ever done on their own. In fact, more than 9,500 prints of the Jolly Flatboatmen subject were produced. Impressions of these prints will be included in the exhibition as well.
Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River is co-organized by the Art Museum and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and 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.
Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River is supported by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. A highly competitive award from the National Endowment for the Arts has been shared between the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. A leading gift from the William T. Kemper Foundation—Commerce Bank Trustee, has helped make possible the St. Louis presentation.