Bingham in Dusseldorf

On this day in 1856, George Caleb Bingham wrote:

Immediately upon our arrival in Dusseldorf I called upon [Emanuel] Leutze, the famous painter, who received me as cordially as if I had been a brother, and without a moment’s delay assisted me in finding a Studio, and introduced me to one of his American pupils though whose guidance I shortly obtained accommodations of the best kind, and upon most reasonable terms for Eliza and Clara…The space intervening is called Hofgarten, and constitutes one of the most beautiful pleasure grounds that I ever beheld.  It is overgrown with large trees arranged in imitation of nature…We are located precisely as I desired.[1]

Emanuel Leutze
Emanuel Leutze, Self-Portraitca. 1846
Oil on Canvas, 26 x22.5 inches

The location does indeed appear idyllic. 

Dusseldorf Hofgarten
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[1] “Letter to James Sidney Rollins from Düsseldorf, Germany, November 4, 1856,” Lynn Wolf Gentzler, ed., “But I forget that I am a painter and not a politician”: The Letters of George Caleb Bingham, ­(Columbia, Missouri: State Historical Society of Missouri; Arrow Rock, Mo.: Friends of Arrow Rock, 2011), 177.

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Eliza Bingham’s Death

On this day in 1876, George Caleb Bingham lost his wife of 27 years.  Just six days before Eliza Bingham’s death, the artist wrote his friend James Rollins: I surely may trust that God, in his infinite Mercy may restore to me my wife… if God shall roll away the mental cloud under which she suffers, she will rejoice… “ [1]

Eliza Bingham

Eliza was only 45 when she died at the Fulton State Hospital, a mental asylum, on November 3, 1876. When she married in 1849, she was 21 and  an accomplished pianist. After the Binghams’ return from Germany in 1859, she was appointed the first director of the music department at the Baptist Female College (now Stephens College) in Columbia, Missouri, She reared Bingham’s children from his first marriage, Horace (1841-1870) and Clara (1845-1901), and their own child, Rollins (1861-1910).

George Caleb Bingham, Mrs. George Caleb Bingham (Eliza K. Thomas) (210)
George Caleb Bingham, Mrs. George Caleb Bingham (Eliza K. Thomas), 1849
Oil on Canvas, 35 x 27 inches
Private Collection

Her husband portrayed her near the time of their marriage (above). She  was probably the model for Thread of Life, 1862. (Please click the link to see the zoomable image.) The latter painting, now owned by the State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia. The palette of Thread of Life is unique in Bingham’s oeuvre. A popular German painting of the body of St. Catharine carried by angels, created by Heinrich Mucke, a professor at the Dusseldorf Academy when the Binghams lived there, may have been a major influence.  

Heinrich Mucke, Die hl. Catharina wird nach ihrem Märtyrertod zu Alexandrien von Engeln nach dem Sinai getragen, 1830
Old National Gallery, Berlin, Germany

Both artworks would have remained in the artist’s home or studio during his lifetime.  With Eliza’s death, Bingham could not rejoice in her recovery as he had hoped. But, if she was indeed the inspiration for Thread of Life, would he, a religious man,  have rejoiced at the thought of her in heaven, picturing her much as he had portrayed her a decade and a half earlier?

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[1] George Caleb Bingham, “Letter to James Sidney Rollins,” October 29, 1876, Jefferson City, Missouri, in  Lynn Wolf Gentzler, editor, Roger E. Robinson, compiler, “But I Forget That I am a Painter and Not a Politician”: The Letters of George Caleb Bingham (The State Historical Society of Missouri and Friends of Arrow Rock, Inc. 2011), 417.

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“Clear Perception and Practiced Eye”

On this day in 1873, George Caleb Bingham in Kansas City, Missouri, wrote to James S. Rollins in Columbia, Missouri, “I will call by as I go east, and assist in the proper framing of your portrait. It will be well to put on a new strong stretching frame, with another good thick canvas behind it to give that on which the portrait is painted additional strength. ” [1]

The portrait would have been the large, full-length painting for which only the modella now exists. Bingham also painted simply the head and shoulders of the larger painting, now owned by the State Historical Society of Missouri. Especially in this zoom-able link, the artist’s respect and affection for his friend of 40 years can be seen. Unfortunately, the popular overly hirsute style of men’s facial hair in the 1870s hides the lower part of his face. 

George Caleb Bingham, Major James Sidney Rollins, 1871
Oil on Canvas, 33 x 30 inches
Private Collection

Through only the upper part of the face, Bingham shows us Rollins through his eyes. we can see the artist’s respect and affection for his subject. How artists achieve such effects is beyond  me, but not for Bingham, who described his process:

There are lines which are to be seen on every man’s face which indicate to a certain extent the nature of the spirit within him. But these lines are not the spirit which indicate any more than the sign above the entrance to a store is the merchandise within. These lines upon the face embody what artists its expression, because they reveal the thoughts, emotions, and to some extent the mental and  moral character of the man. The clear perception and practiced eye of the artist will not fail to detect these; and by tracing similar lines upon the portrait, he gives to it the expression which belong to the face of his sitter, in doing this, so far from transferring to his canvas the soul of his subject, he merely gives such indications of a soul as appear in certain lines of the human face; if he gives them correctly, he has done all that Art can do. [2]  

The consummate skill that can be seen in this portrait belies the standard assessment that Bingham painted his best work in the 1840s. Indeed, he painted the majority of his genre pieces in that time frame. The statement demonstrates the preference of art historians for genre and historical art and which places portraiture on the bottom rung of a metaphorical ladder. When portraiture is included in the artist’s oeuvre, one can see the skillful maturity of his later work.

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[1] George Caleb Bingham, “Letter to James Sidney Rollins,” October 26, 1873, Kansas City, Missouri, in  Lynn Wolf Gentzler, editor, Roger E. Robinson, compiler, “But I Forget That I am a Painter and Not a Politician”: The Letters of George Caleb Bingham (The State Historical Society of Missouri and Friends of Arrow Rock, Inc. 2011), 358.

[2]  George Caleb Bingham, “Art, the Ideal of Art and the Utility of Art,” March 1, 1879 in Gentzler, 504. 



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Dr. Joseph C. Hutchison

On this day in 1857, George Caleb Bingham wrote J. S. Rollins from Dusseldorf, Germany, that his son Horace, “was with his uncle, Dr. Hutchison, in Brooklyn, making preparations to embark. [1]

Joseph C Hutchison, MD
Sarony, Photo. Burt. Sc.
National Library of Medicine

Dr. Joseph Chrisman Hutchison (1827-1887) was a younger brother of Bingham’s first wife, Sarah Elizabeth Hutchison (1819-1848). George and Elizabeth had four children together but only two lived to be adults: Horace (1841-1870) and Clara (1845-1901).  Elizabeth died at the age of 29.  

At the time of his sister’s death, Joseph, eight years younger than she, had recently received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. For three years he practiced in Missouri, but in 1853, moved to Brooklyn, New York.

In New York, Joseph C. Hutchison served as president of the Long Island College Hospital, the Medical Society of the County of Kings, the New York State Medical Society, the New York Pathological Society, and as a Brooklyn Health Commissioner. He wrote articles and books on a range of topics from the use of acupressure in surgery to treatment of chronic inflammation of the hip, knee, and ankle joints, of treatments for small pox and cholera, and a series of books on health that were used in schools for decades. A more detailed biography is below.  [2]

For Dr. Hutchison, there are no verso stories. In the slave schedules of 1850 and 1860, his name does not appear. 

That his nephew Horace stayed with his uncle in Brooklyn speaks to a continued closeness of the Bingham and Hutchison families nearly a decade after the death of Elizabeth. 

Years ago, on a genealogical site, I caught a brief glimpse of an image of  portrait of Dr. Joseph C. Hutchison. The piece was obviously the work of George Caleb Bingham and a fine one it was. The image disappeared and follow-up to find that portrait led nowhere. Someday, I hope, that important artwork reappears. 

George Caleb Bingham

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[1] George Caleb Bingham, “Letter to James Sidney Rollins,” October 12, 1857, Dusseldorf, Germany, in  Lynn Wolf Gentzler, editor, Roger E. Robinson, compiler, “But I Forget That I am a Painter and Not a Politician”: The Letters of George Caleb Bingham (The State Historical Society of Missouri and Friends of Arrow Rock, Inc. 2011), 190.

[2] Medical Society of the County of Kings (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.), History of the Medical Society of the County of Kings (Record Press, 1899), 33; Works by Dr. Joseph C. Hutchison in the collection of the U. S. National Library of Medicine.

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Verso Stories: Supporting Actors

Recto and Verso

The stories behind 19th century American portraits on this blog have so far spoken to the lives of people on the front of the canvas.  The front of an artwork is referred to formally as “recto.” Verso” is the term for the back.  The back of a painting is literally a support system. Beginning with this blog, I will occasionally tell verso stories: the stories of the supporting players behind the portrait sitters. Those supporting players usually were their slaves.


On January 7, 1849, George, a slave of Mary Rollins, wife of James Sidney Rollins, George Caleb Bingham’s best friend, was rented to a Mr. Lewis for one year for $125, an amount worth over  $3,000 today. Mary Rollins stipulated in the contract that Mr. Lewis would “furnish said boy with all suitable necessary clothing adapted to the different seasons, pay his taxes and doctor’s bills during the year 1849 and treat him humanely.” [1] 


Two years earlier, in 1847, Leona Hardeman Cordell, the woman who would become the second wife of William Franklin Dunnica  rented her eight-year-old slave girl, Sara, to an Edwin Tanner.  Leona was a 25-year-old woman with two small children who had been abandoned by her husband, Richard L. Cordell. She and the children had moved into the St. Louis home of her mother, Nancy Knox Hardeman Dunnica and her stepfather, James Dunnica, uncle of her future second husband. Judge Dunnica owned the equivalent of $3 million in real estate. Why was it necessary to rent out Sara?  [2] 

Warning: graphic violent details

It is not known how long Tanner possessed Sara, but in August 1847, he returned her to Leona. “The flesh on the back and limbs were beaten to a jelly – one shoulder bone was laid bare – there were several cuts from a club, on the head and around the neck was the indentation of a cord, by which it was supposed she had been confined to a tree…After coming home, her constant request until her death was for bread, by which it would seem that she had been starved as well as unmercifully whipped.”[3]

The coroner called six men to James Dunnica’s home to view the dead girl’s body. They unanimously swore under oath that Sara “came to her death by violence inflicted on her person.” The coroner wrote, “the above-named Sarah was evidently whipped to death, probably and almost certainly by Edwin Tanner or some of his family or by himself and family.” The coroner then added this highly personal note, ‘Of all the inquests that I have held, numbering 317, and having seen, as I thought, the work of death in almost all its horrors, the above crime far surpasses anything I have ever seen of human depravity and cruelty.”[4]

Tanner may have been fined. He was not hanged or imprisoned

Charlie and Stephen; William and Telly

Leona’s older half-brother, John Locke Hardeman lived in Saline County, Missouri. In 1855 or 1856, George Caleb Bingham painted his portrait, which is now owned by the State Historical Society of Missouri. In 1857, Hardeman died. He was 48. In his will, he wrote that his slaves “Charlie and Steven, and their families, not be broken up.” To his half-brother, Glen Owen Hardeman, he left many possessions, including his “old faithful servants,” William, 63, and Telly, 60. Locke also provided $1,000 (about $12,000 today) to ensure their comfort for the rest of their lives.  Why not free all his slaves as another portrait sitter did Lewis Penn Witherspoon Balch? Why not give William and Telly the $12,000?  In 1858, in Missouri’s Little Dixie, such a thought was probably unthinkable. Indeed, in 1858, Hardeman’s actions may have been radically liberal. [5]


What are we to make of these verso stories of the lives of people who survive in name only, but whose labor earned the wealth that allowed the recto subjects to afford a painted portrait?  If I have learned anything in studying 19th century American portraits for over twenty years, it is that just as each artist is unique so is each individual.  The range of interactions between individual slave owners and slaves ranged from “dental insurance,”  “clothing allowances,” and “life-long pensions” to reprehensible torture and death. The past cannot be painted with a broad brush. 

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[1] Letter from Mary Rollins to James Rollins, January 7, 1849, Rollins, James S. (1812-1888), Papers, 1546-1968, C 1026, Folder 14,State Historical Society of Missouri-Columbia; Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Consumer Price Index (Estimate) 1800 -, , accessed April 2018.

[2] United States Census Bureau, Seventh Census of the United States, “Household of James Dunnica,” St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, August 17, 1850, page 47, lines 44-48.

[3] Harriet C. Frazier, Slavery and Crime in Missouri, 1773-1865 (McFarland & Co. 2001), 141-142. Union (St. Louis, Missouri) August 16, 1847, 3:1; Missouri Republican, August 16, 1847, 2:2; Inquest: Slave Sarah, Coroner’s Report of Inquests, 1838-48, Missouri Historical Society.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Will of John Locke Hardeman of Saline County, August 3, 1858,” Glen O. Hardeman Papers, 8, Boone County Probate Records, Boone County Courthouse, Columbia, Missouri, in  Jeffrey C. Stone, Slavery, Southern Culture, and Education in Little Dixie, Missouri, 1820-1860 (Routledge, 2013), 33.


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Restoration vs. Conservation

“There are two ways for a painting to perish, the one is for it to be restored, the other is for it not to be restored.”
—Étienne Gilson
“Restoration is a necessary evil.”
—Max Friedländer

Restoration vs. Conservation is a frequent topic in conversations with clients about their heirloom portraits. This article by George Bisacca,Conservator Emeritus at The Metropolitan Museum of Art brilliantly explains the difference — and the concerns.

The transformation of Lilian de Peyster Post Pulford through conservation:

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Stories Behind the Portraits: The Dunnicas

Discovering History through Art

Historians usually add a painting as an illustration. Fine Art Investigations uses portraits as an entry point to history.  An example is the stories behind the recently re-discovered portraits of the Dunnicas.

The first part of their biography briefly described American expansion in the west after the War of 1812. Back when the Western frontier was central Missouri and the basic mode of transportation was a keel boat. The story resumes after William Franklin Dunnica  established a successful merchandising company beside the Missouri River in Chariton / Glasgow, Missouri, married, and built a large home on a hilltop above the town.

First Years of Marriage

William Franklin Dunnica was a 30-year-old merchant in Glasgow, Chariton County, Missouri, in 1837 when George Caleb Bingham painted the recently re-discovered portraits of him and his  17-year-old wife, Martha Jane Shackelford.  A year later, the Missouri militia called Dunnica and other residents of Chariton to neighboring Carroll County.

In Carroll County, long term residents and newly settled Mormons were ready to battle.  Among the officers were Dunnica and Judge James Earickson. Rather than shed blood, both men urged compromise. Earickson negotiated a peaceful retreat for the Mormons, who re-located to Caldwell County. [i]

As her husband forestalled war, Martha Jane Dunnica was at home with their newborn first child, Jane Eliza (1838-1858).  As was customary at the time, Martha Jane gave birth to a child about every year and a half: Ann Meyrick (1841–1863), Mary Louisa (1843–1930), Thomas Shackelford (1845–after 1880), Theodore (1847–1851), Locke (1851–1852), and Sydney (1855–after 1880).

Business and Civic Leader

William Dunnica operated his mercantile company in Glasgow for more than twenty years, partnering with various other businessmen. Simultaneously, he found foreign markets for tobacco locally grown by William Daniel Swinney and others.  He also clarified titles for landowners. Among his clients was Kentucky Congressman Henry Clay.[ii]

Methodist Church

When the Methodist church was organized at Glasgow on December 28, 1844, the trustees included William Dunnica and William Swinney. Nationally, the issue of slavery had split the Methodist church into two branches, the northern and the southern. Less than six months after the founding of Glasgow’s First Methodist Church, trustees had to decide which division to join. Dunnica, like the majority of Missourians, who if not southern-born, had southern roots, owned slaves. His numbered 10, and ranged in age from 1 to 50, and lived in three slave houses, which indicated decent living situations in family groups. With the rest of the trustees, he voted for membership in the Methodist Episcopal Church South.”[iii]

From April 1849 until December 1852, William Dunnica held the position of postmaster, a prestigious federal appointment at the time. In 1858, after Glasgow citizens organized a branch of the Exchange Bank of St. Louis with Dunnica as its leader. In the midst of William’s successes, Martha Jane died in childbirth on August 31, 1858. Their seventh child died with her.

Second Wife

Almost two years after Martha Jane’s death, on June 30, 1860, William married Leona Hardeman Cordell (1823-1905) in St. Louis, Missouri. Their marriage brought together two successful families. Leona was the daughter of John Hardeman (1776-1829) a merchant, trader and businessman who was also a famed amateur botanist. Her first husband, Richard Lewis Cordell, had abandoned her and their two children. Her marriage to Dunnica would last until his death in 1896 – a total of 36 years. They had three daughters. [iv]

In 1863, with J. S. Thomson, Dunnica purchased Glasgow’s Exchange Bank. The town’s other bank was owned by W. D. Swinney and the Birch family. [v]

Civil War

The Battle of Glasgow

In the autumn of 1864, Union forces led by Colonel Chester Harding, Jr., occupied Glasgow.  Confederate General Sterling Price ordered an attack on the town. Expecting a confrontation, Colonel Harding ordered his men to dig rifle pits on one of the highest points in town — about 225 yards away from the Dunnica home, Dunhaven.[vi]

Photograph by J. Y. Miller

General Joseph. O. Shelby was in overall command of Confederate forces during the battle. Joining him was Brigadier General John Bullock Clark from nearby Fayette, Missouri. On October 15, 1864, the Battle of Glasgow began.[vi]

On the day of the battle, Shelby first directed his fire against the steamer Western Wind, a barracks for Union soldiers. The ship, lying at the wharf, was soon disabled and abandoned. A Confederate battalion took control of Dunhaven. Shelby turned his guns on the City Hall that Union forces used as a commissary depot. Before 10:00 am, all the garrison defending the town was compelled to take to their rifle pits. The house had ten openings fronting the pits. As rebels fired out, sharpshooters in the pits fired over 300 bullets into the house. The Confederates were closing in on the rifle pits when the City Hall was set on fire. A strong wind blowing from the northwest spread the fire. Twelve or fifteen houses burned to the ground. With over 50 casualties on each side, Harding surrendered to Clark at one in the afternoon. [vii]

After the Battle

Bloody Bill Anderson

William T. “Bloody Bill” Anderson

The victors disarmed and paroled 27 Union officers, including Harding. The defeated men knew that the month before, only 50 miles away, Bloody Bill Anderson’s gang had murdered 23 unarmed Union soldiers on a train stopped at the station in  Centralia, Missouri. Congressman James Sidney Rollins, George Caleb Bingham’s good friend, had been on the same train and barely escaped. Fearing that if they remained at Glasgow without weapons, they would meet the same fate, the prisoners requested an escort to the federal camp in Boonville.[viii]

Lieutenant James W. Graves

Confederate Lieutenant James W. Graves  commanded the escort of some 70 men from Company H, 3rd Missouri Mounted Infantry. Waiting at a fork in the road were Bloody Bill Anderson and some 100 of his guerrillas, dressed in the blue uniforms of fallen federal forces. When four of Anderson’s men rode ahead and demanded the parolees, Graves was not fooled by their disguise. He is reported to have said, “Tell Bill Anderson that his damnable proposal is too infamous for me to consider for an instant. We are Confederate soldiers, and he and his men are murderers and thieves.” [ix]

The lieutenant gave the Union officers the option to flee on their own, but the men chose to remain with the rebel Army. Graves re-armed them. Waving a flag with stars and bars and a flag with stars and stripes, the soldiers from both sides prepared to fight Anderson and his men. But like most bullies, when confronted courage, the guerrillas retreated. [x]

The next day, the escort met a federal patrol and safely returned the parolees to the Union Army. In his report of the battle, Colonel Harding wrote, “I desire particularly to acknowledge the assiduous care which Lieutenant Graves of the Third (rebel) Missouri Volunteers, commanding our escort, bestowed upon us and the good behaviour of his men. Had they been our own troops we could not have been better treated.” After the war, the former officers honored Graves with a medal.  [xi]

William Quantrill

While Bloody Bill Anderson was on the outskirts of town, William Quantrill was in Glasgow itself. The year before Quantrill and his Raiders had murdered 200 men and boys in Lawrence, Kansas, before setting fire to the abolitionist town. In Glasgow, Quantrill claimed to have been the first man to reach the rifle pits after the surrender. Either Shelby or Clark told him he was not aware of Quantrill’s presence at any time during the engagement but only saw him afterwards.  [xii]

On the second evening after the battle,  Quantrill commanded two of his men to go to Dunhaven and bring William Dunnica to his bank. There, Quantrill coerced Dunnica to unlock the bank vault and safe. The raiders left with $21,000. What they didn’t know was that the day before, Dunnica had buried $32,000.[xiii]

Dunnica Saves His Friend

The next week some of that buried money rescued Dunnica’s friend, tobacco farmer Benjamin Lewis. Lewis supported the Union and had offered a $6,000 reward for Bloody Bill Anderson. Riding into the devastated town of Glasgow, Anderson broke into Lewis’ home and ordered him to give him the $6,000. Lewis did not have the amount on hand. Anderson beat and tortured him, swearing that he would not stop until he had the full $6,000, whether from Lewis himself or from his family and friends. Dunnica came with the rest of the money and Anderson released the badly injured Lewis. Two years later Lewis died from those injuries, but without Dunnica’s foresight and help, he would have died that day. [xiv]

Last Years

William and Leona Dunnica repaired their home and replaced their bullet-ridden furniture. Under the clapboard of the house, the bullet holes can still be seen. The Thomson & Dunnica Bank survived the war and continued until 1877 when it merged with Howard County Bank. Dunnica again led the financial institution until he retired in 1881 at the age of 74.

In 1883 a biographer wrote, “Mr. D. has been an enterprising and public-spirited citizen and has contributed very materially to the general prosperity of Glasgow and surrounding country. He has never sought or desired office, although he has several times been induced to accept minor official positions that did not interfere with his business. His desire has been, so far as public affairs are concerned, to make himself a useful factor in the material development of the county with which he is identified. The biographer admonished his readers that the life of W. F. Dunnica proved that “intelligent industry and frugality, united with upright conduct, cannot fail to bring abundant success.”[xv]

William Franklin Dunnica lived to the age of 88. He died on April 28, 1896. Leona died in Glasgow nine years later on February 28, 1905. They are both buried in Glasgow’s Washington Cemetery beside Dunnica’s first wife, Martha Jane Shackelford Dunnica.

With the re-discovery of the companion portraits of William Franklin Dunnica and Martha Jane Shackelford, we now have another example of Bingham’s artistry. We also have a window into the past that brings history to life through the details of the sitters’ lives.


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[i] O. P. Williams, History of Chariton and Howard Counties, Missouri (National Historical Company. 1883), 54-56; Background information from Stephen C. LeSueur, “Missouri’s Failed Compromise: The Creation of Caldwell County for the Mormons.” Journal of Mormon History 31, no. 2 (2005): 113-44., accessed February 2019.

[ii] O. P. Williams. & Co., History of Howard and Cooper Counties, Missouri (National Historical Company. 1883),437; Available documentation does not clarify whether Dunnica was the official or unofficial registrar for land titles; The Papers of Henry Clay: The Whig Leader, January 1, 1837-December 31, 1843 (University Press of Kentucky, 2015), 453.

[iii] Williams, History of Chariton and Howard Counties, Missouri, 354.

[iv] William E. Foley, “Hardeman, John,” in Lawrence O. Christensen, William E. Foley, Gary Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds., Dictionary of Missouri Biography (University of Missouri Press, 1999), 370-371. George Caleb Bingham portrayed Leona’s brother, John Locke Hardeman, circa 1855, which is owned by the State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia,, accessed January 2019.

[v] Ibid., 234, 211; United States Census Bureau, Eighth Census of the United States: Slave Schedules, “W. F. Dunnica,” Chariton-Glasgow, Howard, Missouri, August, 1860, column 2, lines 3-13.

[vi] Williams, History of Chariton and Howard Counties, Missouri, 288; J. Y. Miller added specific leadership details.

[vii] Williams., 288-289

[viii] Ibid. Daniel N. Rolph, My Brother’s Keeper (Stackpole Books, 2002) referenced in J. Y. Miller, “LT James W. Graves – A Story of Courage and Honor,” Battle of Glasgow History, Lewis Library, Glasgow, Missouri,, accessed January 2019.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Williams, 289.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] J. Y. Miller, Battle of Glasgow History, Lewis Library, Glasgow, Missouri,, accessed January 2019; email correspondence with J. Y. Miller, January 28, 2019.

[xv] Ibid.

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Rediscovered Bingham Portraits: The Dunnicas, Part 3

Rediscovered Bingham Portraits: The Dunnicas, Part 3

The Correction


This is the third of four blogs about the re-discovered George Caleb Bingham portraits of William Franklin Dunnica and Martha Jane Shackelford Dunnica.

The work of E. Maurice Bloch (1925-1989), the world’s acknowledged expert on artist George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), is awe-inspiring. At the University of California Los Angeles, where he was a professor of art history, he was known for his “meticulous scholarship and connoisseurship.” Without the aid of the Internet, and for most of his research not even a computer, he compiled a wealth of information currently stored at the Getty Research Institute. He wrote four authoritative books on George Caleb Bingham. Of the four, his masterpiece is, in my opinion, his final Bingham Catalogue Raisonné: The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné (University of Missouri Press, 1986). [i]

Joyce Wahl Treiman, Portrait of E. Maurice Bloch, 1971
Oil on Canvas, 24 x 20 inches
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Given in Memory of Maurice Bloch and of Blake Nevius, friends of the artist.

Bingham Catalogue Raisonné Categories

The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham is still the definitive work on George Caleb Bingham. So, when companion portraits of William Franklin Dunnica and his wife Martha Jane Shackelford came to my attention, the first place I looked was the Bingham Catalogue Raisonné. I found the two Dunnica portraits listed in the back pages, in Category D., “Attributed Paintings.”

In his Catalogue Raisonné, Bloch divided 562 artworks into four categories:

A.      Dated Extant and Recorded Paintings 430
B.      Undated Recorded Paintings 21
C.      Fragmentary References to Paintings 8
D.     Attributed Paintings 91
E.      Copies after Bingham 12
Total 562

Over the years, Category D. has become the kiss of death. Each painting listed there that I have personally seen reinforced Bloch’s classification. But the Dunnica portraits were easily recognizable Binghams with impeccable provenance. Art historical documentation and connoisseurship solidified the authentication. How could Bloch have relegated such fine portraits to the dustbin of his catalogue?

How Did This Mistake Happen?

The short answer is: he never saw the Dunnica portraits.

The long answer is found in a close reading of Bloch’s explanatory notes.

Bloch knew of the existence of the portraits from a slim, but influential volume published in 1917, George Caleb Bingham: The Missouri Artist, by Fern Helen Rusk (1890-1984). Rusk’s book is responsible for keeping the artist’s memory alive. Rusk listed the portrait pair as Mr. and Mrs. William Franklin Dunnica with the name of the owner, but, without dates or description. When Bloch reviewed Rusk’s work, he could not locate the owner nor their direct descendants. But he knew of another Bingham painting of Martha Jane Shackelford, the first wife of William Franklin Dunnica. Bloch noted that Martha Jane’s brother, Thomas Shackelford commissioned the portrait and that it descended within the family of her brother, along with other Bingham family portraits. Although William Dunnica and Thomas Shackelford, were life-long friends, over time, their children and their children’s children lost touch with one another. By the time Bloch was updating the work of previous Bingham scholars Fern Helen Rusk and John Francis McDermott (1902-1981), their descendants did not know of the others’ existence. When Bloch asked the Shackelford descendants about other Dunnica portraits, they honestly answered that they had no knowledge of the portraits or their whereabouts. [ii]

I, too, found Shackelford descendants when I reviewed Bloch’s work. They generously sent me a color photograph of their portrait of Martha Jane, which I had only known through the black & white photograph in the Catalogue Raisonné.

Two Portraits of Martha Jane Shackelford Dunnica

At first glance, the previously known portrait of Martha Jane Shackelford Dunnica does not appear to be the same woman pictured in the head & shoulders companion portrait of her husband. But, on close examination, it can be seen that the hairline and ears are identical; the mouths and shoulder shapes are similar; and the sitter is wearing the same necklace in both portraits. I scrolled through my portrait image collection for 1836-1839 and could not find another necklace like it.

The differences in the two portraits lay in Bingham’s increasing talent. In the later, and larger, portrait, Bingham knew to pose the head so that the nose was less prominent. The nostrils are alike. The most striking difference is the eyes. The artist had learned how to better shape and shadow eyes.

The Wrong Conclusion

Since Bloch had seen the later portrait of Martha Jane Shackelford Dunnica, he logically assumed that the paintings listed in Rusk were of Dunnica and his second wife, Leona Hardeman Cordell (1807-1896). He further presumed that the companion portraits were painted near the second wedding date, June 1860. Since the Shackelford family had no knowledge of the other portraits, he concluded, “Evidently attributed to the artist by family tradition, with no substantiation.” With such reasoning, he classified the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. William Franklin Dunnica in his Bingham Catalogue Raisonné in Section D: Attributed Paintings, without ever seeing them.

The Correction

In updating E. Maurice Bloch’s The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné, the re-discovered portraits of William Franklin Dunnica and Martha Jane Shackelford (Mrs. William Franklin Dunnica) should be listed in Category A., with a date of execution of 1836-1837, with their impeccable provenance and expanded biographies. A fine addition to a well-researched, awe-inspiring volume that is almost perfect due to the efforts of an outstanding art historian, E. Maurice Bloch.

In the fourth and final blog, the stories behind the Dunnica portraits provide a window into the past that brings history to life through the details of the sitters’ lives.

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2019
All Rights Reserved

[i] David Rodes and Anthony Vidler, “E. Maurice Bloch, Art History: Los Angeles,”,;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&, accessed January 2019; E. Maurice Bloch’s books on George Caleb Bingham are: George Caleb Bingham: The Evolution of an Artist (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967); and, George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné  (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967); The Drawings of George Caleb Bingham, with a Catalogue Raisonné (University of Missouri Press, 1975);The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham : A Catalogue Raisonné (Columbia, MO : University of Missouri Press, 1986). The latter two works expand on the earlier books, but the original texts still contain valuable information about the Missouri Artist.

[ii] E. Maurice Bloch, The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné (University of Missouri Press, 1986), page 263.

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