In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, George Calder Eichbaum (1837-1919) was one of the most popular portrait artists in Missouri. A contemporary wrote, “In beauty of coloring and truthfulness of likeness his portraits rank among the best painted by Western artists.” Yet memory of him hides in the shadow of his extraordinary teacher, George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879). Bingham’s patron, James Sidney Rollins (1812-1881) also supported Eichbaum. Eichbaum painted copies of Bingham’s portraits of Mrs. James Sidney Rollins (Mary Elizabeth Rollins) (1820-1907), their son, Frank Blair Rollins (1857-1884). Eichbaum’s copy of Bingham’s 1837 portrait of Major Richard Gentry, hangs in the Gentry County, Missouri, courthouse. Portraits by Eichbaum are, at times, attributed to George Caleb Bingham due to several technical similarities.
When Eichbaum unleashed his dramatic flair, his work was at its best. Mrs. Josephine Bouvier as Lady Gay Spanker, 1878, held by the Saint Louis Art Museum, epitomizes his personal style. In the three-quarter portrait, Bouvier, an actress, poses as a character from a popular theatrical comedy, London Assurance, a riding crop held casually over her shoulder, her head turned toward the viewer with a steady gaze and enigmatic smile. That same year, Eichbaum exhibited a now lost artwork, The Defeated Candidate, at the National Academy of Design where it “received a most flattering notice in the Art Journal as a piece of undoubted merit” and fetched “a handsome figure.” He continued on to the Paris Exposition and then devoted “some months abroad among the galleries of the Old World.” On his return, his style was still further refined as can be seen in his 1901 portrait, William Christy Bryan, Jr.
Eichbaum was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on May 12, 1837, the second of eight children of civil engineer, George Robinson Eichbaum, and his wife, Helena Calder. The family lived in Ohio and Pennsylvania, before establishing permanent residence in Missouri. In the early and mid-1850s, while still a teenager, Eichbaum probably studied with George Caleb Bingham, though he never claimed the association, but similarities in his early work are unmistakable. By 1859, Eichbaum had set up his own studio in St Louis. He was only 22.
Eichbaum never married. He lived with his widowed mother and maiden sisters. He died April 18, 1919, and is buried in the family plot at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.
Owners of artwork by George Calder Eichbaum include the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis, Missouri; the State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri; Montana Historical Society, the R. W. Norton Art Foundation, the Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis University, and the United States Military Academy.
Alden, Henry Mills, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, (Harper and Bros., 1884), Volume 68, 517.
Bowker, R. R., American Art Directory (American Federation of Arts, 1914), 478.
Conard, Howard Louis, Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri, a compendium of history and biography for ready reference (Volume 2) (New York, Louisville, St. Louis: The Southern History Company, Haldeman, Conard & Co., Proprietors, 1901), 357
Dacus, Joseph A. and James William Buel, A Tour of St. Louis, or, The inside life of a great city, (St. Louis, Missouri: Western Publishing Company, 1878), 71-75.
Eichbaum Family Papers from the collection of William Anderson, great-grandnephew of the artist
Missouri State Archives, “George Calder Eichbaum,” Death Certificate 1919_00016254
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Art Inventories Catalogue, Eichbaum, G. C., 1837-1919, painter.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Art Inventories Catalogue, Eichbaum, George Calder, 1837-1919, painter. (attributed to).
United States Census Bureau, Seventh Census of the United States, Household of George R. Eichbaum, July 28, 1850, Wellsville, Columbiana, Ohio; Roll: M432_669; Page: 161B; 326, lines 3-12.
United States Census Bureau, Tenth Census of the United States, Household of George C. Eichbaum, June 11, 1880, Saint Louis, St Louis (Independent City), Missouri; Roll: 736; Page: 470D; Enumeration District: 437; lines 43-46.
United States Census Bureau, Twelfth Census of the United States, Household of George C. Eichbaum,June 11, 1900, St Louis Ward 24, St Louis (Independent City), Missouri; Roll: 899; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0365, lines 36-39.
United States Census Bureau, Thirteenth Census of the United States, Household of George C. Eichbaum, July 28, 1850, St Louis Ward 13, Saint Louis City, Missouri; Roll: T624_817; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 0215, lines 52-54.