Patricia Moss, Art Detective on the Portrait Beat

Patricia Moss, Curator, George Caleb Bingham: Witness to History

Recently our local columnist on Washington state’s Long Beach Peninsula  wrote a fabulous article  about me and my work, Patricia Moss, Art Detective on the Portrait Beat. I appreciate all of Cate Gable’s perceptive explanations and compliments. She “gets” what I am trying to do: “Pat…thinks it’s time we re-evaluate American portraiture of the 19th Century.”  She captured my “enthusiasm” and “passion” for my work. She understood how important integrity is to me. She included the fact that among reputable art historians there is “a firewall between painting authentication and sales.”

Much as the article makes me blush, there is a misleading typo and some overstatements of my accomplishments that I really should correct. The typo concerns the portrait miniature. The sentence should read that according to my research  the subject of the portrait miniature is “either young Lincoln or the previous owner’s great-grandfather.”

For the fact that Bingham (1811-79) is being hailed as one of the great painters of the American 19th century, I can take no credit.  That honor belongs to those who preserved his reputation: Fern Helen Rusk (1890-1984), Albert Christ-Janer (1910-1973), John Francis McDermott (1902-1981) and especially, E. Maurice Bloch (1916-1989); to those who enhanced his reputation through enlightening scholarship, particularly Barbara Groseclose, Henry Adams and Nancy Rash (1941-1995). Credit, too, must be given Michael Edward Shapiro, especially for the 1990 exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum and its accompanying catalogue, and to the forces behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s nationwide exhibit of American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915. Sabine Eckmann of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, helped Bingham achieve an international reputation by loaning Bingham’s Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap (1851-1852) to the State Department for exhibition in Beijing, Shanghai, and Moscow in 2007 in Art in America: Three Hundred Years of Innovation.  Providing insight into the life of the man is the work of biographer Paul Nagel, George Caleb Bingham: Missouri’s Famed Painter and Forgotten Politician, and, most recently, the staff at the State Historical Society of Missouri with their publication of Bingham’s letters, “But I Forget That I am a Painter and Not a Politician”.  In my heart I have a special place for the Friends of Arrow Rock, Inc. They kept Bingham’s fame alive even when his reputation waned.  They restored to perfection the Village of Arrow Rock where Bingham’s home still stands and where frontier life in antebellum America can still be experienced (without slavery, thank goodness.)

Regarding the sale of Mrs. George Caleb Bingham (Elizabeth Hutchison) and Son Newton, 1844, in 2011, I did no research for Sotheby’s. The provenance was already well-documented.   All of us who know Bingham knew the New York auction house’s estimate was low.  The final price validated the true worth of George Caleb Bingham’s portraits.

If George Caleb Bingham’s portraits receive national recognition, then I hope my name will be among those who helped pioneer that effort.  But most of all, when given the opportunity to be seen, the work of George Caleb Bingham speaks for itself.

And thanks, again, Cate Gable, for a wonderful write-up.

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2014
All Rights Reserved

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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