Bingham scholar E. Maurice Bloch listed the portraits of Mrs. Ephraim Allison (Ruth McCarty), 1872 (A383) and Tom Edward Allison, 1872, (A384) in his definitive work, George Caleb Bingham Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonne, (University of Missouri Press, 1986). As I worked with lists and images of Bingham portraits, I wondered, wouldn’t Bingham have painted Mr. Ephraim Allison as well? The thought passed, barely noticed.
Years later, I received a message from a descendant of the Allisons. He owned a portrait his ancestor, Judge Ephraim Allison, which had passed down through his family. He had seen a copy of the Bloch Catalogue Raisonne and the images of Mrs. Ephraim Allison and son Tom. He had not been aware of those two paintings. Was George Caleb Bingham also the artist of his family heirloom?
I was scheduled to speak in the coming months not far from the man’s home at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri, during the Bingham Bicentennial in 2011. The Center made arrangements for the Judge’s portrait to be transported there. The portraits, Mrs. Ephraim Allison (Ruth McCarty) and Thomas Edward Allison were now part of the McClain Collection in Independence, Missouri. Ken McClain gave his permission to lend those two portraits to the Center. During my presentation, the owner of Judge Allison spoke about his grandfather with reverence. We then unveiled the three portraits.
Even the original, unique frames of the portraits of Ephraim and his wife were identical. Cross-hatching on a dark background instead of more familiar gold-leaf rosettes.
The portrait of the judge has not undergone scientific examination. The long straight beard fits the style of the early 1870s, the same time that George Caleb Bingham painted the portraits of Ruth and Tom Allison. A number of Bingham connoisseurs have examined it and agreed to its authenticity.
To see the family portraits re-united was an inexpressible thrill. My thanks to both owners and to the Midwest Genealogy for their generosity in reuniting the three paintings. View the reunion and the presentation, George Caleb Bingham, an Art Detective, and Genealogy, or read a biography of Judge Allison.
(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2012
All Rights Reserved