George Caleb Bingham painted Shubael Allen and Dinah Ayres Trigg (Mrs. Shubael Allen) in 1835 in Liberty, Missouri, when he was 23 and on his first trip as an itinerant portrait artist. These three-quarter portraits, awash in light, demonstrate the artist’s simple, flat, and hard-lined style. He had not yet perfected his portrait template. A rudimentary, dark vertical shadow in Shubael’s portrait presaged the portraitist’s later command of perspective.
New York native Shubael Allen (1793- 1841) was a civil engineer who helped build bridges in Pennsylvania and Kentucky before moving to Missouri by 1818. He married Dinah Ayers Trigg in 1822 in Boonville, Missouri. They moved to Missouri’s western frontier near what is now Liberty, Missouri. For several years they shared a dog trot cabin with Dinah’s sister Elizabeth and her husband, John Thornton. The Thorntons remained (on the land which became Shoal Creek Living History Museum). The the Allens moved to bluffs overlooking the Missouri River.
Allen built warehouses, a river landing and “one of the most beautiful and romantic plantations in the state.” By 1829, Allen’s Landing was northwest Missouri’s main steamboat stop and the last port of call for trappers from the American Fur Company. He was “a thorough-paced man of business. It was conceded that no one in the state could, in the same time, dispatch more business, or with greater precision, or with less discomfort to the parties engaged with him, than he.” Allen served as sheriff of Clay County from 1826 to 1830 and as County Court Justice from 1831 to 1834. He fought as a colonel in the Blackhawk War of 1832. He died at Liberty Landing at the age of 48. What happened to his wife after his death made history. But, that’s the next story behind the portraits.
_______ “Colonel Shubael Allen: Liberty”, Portrait and biographical record of Clay, Ray, Carroll, Chariton, and Linn Counties, Missouri… (Chapman Brothers, 1893), 700-708)
(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2012-2017
All Rights Reserved