State historical society showcases Bingham's portrayals of Civil War women and children

The exhibit, which offers a rare view of Bingham's portrayals of women and children, and can be visited through early September.
Casey Purcella / Graphic Designer

Through mid-September, MU students will have the opportunity to look at history through the eyes of an artist at The State Historical Society of Missouri.

The gallery "Women, Children, and George Caleb Bingham: A Selection of Artworks," is in honor of George Caleb Bingham's 200th birthday, an artist from Missouri. The gallery ranges from portraits of women in their everyday attire, such as the painting "Portrait of Miss Annie Allen," to allegorical pieces such as "The Thread of Life."

Joan Stack, curator of the art galleries in the Historical Society, said the inclusion of once-unknown paintings of Bingham will further educate museum visitors about Bingham's appreciation of women and children.

"What people should take from this gallery is that Bingham had a respect for the women, which is why he gave them senses of characters in their faces and placed them and the children in a narrative context," she said. "This shows a different side of Bingham, as an appreciator of women, who were seen as separate people during the Civil War."

The female portraits, such as "Portrait of Miss Annie Allen" or "Portrait of Miss Mary Eliza Barr," show the women in a calm but rebellious tone, possibly to counteract the stereotypes of women as weak that existed during the Civil War.

Freshman Sydney Monteer said the portraits show history that should be better-known because it shows former positions of women once and what was accomplished during that time.

"The culture was different then because you were persecuted for everything -- even being a woman," she said. "The contrasts between the vibrant and sad photos show that while women did not have many rights, they could possibly become something through being shunned."

"The Thread of Life," an allegorical piece of the collection, shows a young child with a thread in its hand and its mother in a dream world. This is something that Stack said she feels is a metaphorical play on a common theme in Bingham's art: his personal life.

"He played on the idea of the women in his life because his second wife struggled with infertility, which would explain the child as being the beginning of life and the thread to be something that life tries to hold on to," she said.

Like Stack, Museum Preparator Chief Greig Thompson said the rare showcases of Bingham's human side, along with the portrayals of his subjects' home lives rather than his usual political imagery, make the gallery a must-see for MU students.

"This gallery reveals a more personal side of Bingham's art that portrays subjects representative of domestic life," Thompson said. "At the time of their making, they functioned to a great extent to allow Bingham to pursue the goals he sought to achieve with his history and genre painting."

Stack said this gallery will be an experience for the MU community to cherish, and it is particularly pertinent to women who want to learn more about their own history.

"This piece will show 19th century life along with a well-rounded view that will help us understand why we need to observe and discuss what we can do to further the progress of people such as women and children," she said.

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