The Stories Behind the Paintings: The Mill Boy, 1844, Part 1

George Caleb Bingham, The Mill Boy, 1844 (137)

George Caleb Bingham, The Mill Boy, 1844
Oil on Canvas, 37 x 46 inches
Private Collection

George Caleb Bingham painting for the Boonville Juvenile Clay Club Banner, The Mill Boy, 1844,  is both a genre work and a portrait.  As a banner/ genre work, the painting symbolically rallied delegates at the Whig convention. Imagine a political convention with hand-painted artworks paraded through the aisles.  As a portrait, Bingham depicted Whig leader Henry Clay as the “Mill Boy of the Slashes.”  In Virginia’s swampy lowlands, the “slashes,” neighbors remembered young Clay as a barefoot fatherless boy on horseback riding to the mill with a sack of corn for a saddle.

Clay eventually became a lawyer and in 1798 moved to Lexington, Kentucky. Dr. Anthony Wayne Rollins arrived in Lexington not long after and the two self-made men became life-long friends. Some art historians have pondered why Bingham became a Whig. As he began his career Bingham spent much time at the A. W. Rollins home. He would have heard Dr. Rollins tell personal anecdotes about Clay.  I believe Dr Rollins’ relationship with both Clay and with Bingham cannot be over-estimated in the artist’s choice of political party.

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2012

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About Patricia Moss

Patricia Moss is an art historian, or art detective if you will, who solves mysteries of 19th century American portraits. She located nearly 70 of Bingham’s lost portraits, a feat acknowledged by the Smithsonian’s Research and Scholar’s Center. From expertise with portraits of George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), she developed skills that evolved into a comprehensive system based on the scientific method that conforms to the legal and ethical standards of art authentication. Moss served as a guest curator for the Bingham Bicentennial Exhibit, “Steamboats to Steam Engines: George Caleb Bingham’s Missouri: 1819-1879,” (March 10-September 8, 2011) at the Truman Presidential Museum and curated the opening exhibition, “George Caleb Bingham: Witness to History,” (September 2013 –), Jackson County Art Museum, Independence, Missouri. She is also the principal researcher for Fine Art Investigations.
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