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… “ 
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).
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.
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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 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.