Fine Art Investigations’ Patricia Moss learned that the locations of many George Caleb Bingham’s portraits were unknown when she sought image use permissions for a journal article, “The Portraits of George Caleb Bingham Reveal a Different History of Greater Kansas City.” Museums credited for photographs in the Catalogue Raisonné had no record of the artwork. Listed owners had died. With each lost portrait, a piece of American art and American history was lost, too. Moss made it personal mission to locate the lost Bingham portraits, which numbered close to 100. Since 1998, Moss has located 68. The Smithsonian’s Research and Scholars’ Center acknowledged her accomplishments as the “Bingham Lady” in their newsletter.
Some of the recovered pieces of American art and history that she found include:
Dinah Ayers Trigg (Mrs. Shubael Allen), 1835, was found with the help of the Clay County Historical Society. As an artwork, Dinah joins the handful of early artworks that George Caleb Bingham created when he was an itinerant, self-taught artist. Like Binghams of the period, and unlike the two-dimensional figures floating on canvas made by many other itinerants, Dinah sits solidly in the picture plane. The painting demonstrates Bingham’s extraordinary use of his limited palette. As a piece of American history, Dinah Allen herself played an integral role in a dramatic story.
Matilda Donohoe (Mrs. Robert Aull), 1837/1838, is an example of George Caleb Bingham’s early artistry and a treasure of history. Because the portrait was located, it was available to help illustrate a book on the importance of the Santa Fe trade in Missouri.
Captain David McClanahan Hickman was important to the development of central Missouri. He was also related by marriage to George Caleb Bingham. Finding the portrait took ten years.
Of all the Bingham portraits I have located, I am most proud of finding Thomas Hoyle Mastin. His story is fascinating, but more importantly, by finding it, I saved it from near destruction. An unappreciative antique dealer used the portrait as a storeroom table. The descendant / owner wanted to sell the artwork so that it could get the attention it needed. Again, since the painting was already fully authenticated with impeccable provenance, I arranged a sale. Collector Kenneth B. McClain is responsible for ensuring the portrait was returned to its former glory.
Of all the people George Caleb Bingham portrayed, Sarah Harris Rodes (Mrs. Anthony Wayne Rollins) is one of my favorites. Fortunately, I have been able to locate all four portraits that the Missouri Artist created of her.
If you know of any George Caleb Bingham portraits not currently recorded, please contact Fine Art Investigations.
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