Posted tagged ‘George Caleb Bingham’

I know I’m right (I just have to prove it)

February 18, 2019

This is detail from the painting A Lazy Fisherman by John Gadsby Chapman. It was painted in 1844 and currently hangs in the Nelson Atkins Museum here in Kansas City. One critic at the time described this as “laziness personified” though Chapman’s goal was more to depict a historical sense, a past and pastime that was already on its way out.

Directly across the gallery, not thirty feet away, is a painting that contains this detail:

This is from the painting Fishing on the Mississippi by George Caleb Bingham, and it was painted in 1851, just seven years after the Chapman. Bingham made a name for himself by depicting western politics and river life, as well as portraits of many prominent Missourians of his day.

I’ve seen these two paintings scores of times, but it was only recently that I saw something peculiar about them. In both paintings, the fisherman (or boy) has a hole in the right shoulder of his shirt. Mere coincidence?

Look again, though, and you’ll see a similar pose, a similar hat, a similar moon face, similar ear lobes, and even a similar almost melancholy look. More than coincidence, I think.

I suspect that Bingham either knew Chapman or knew this work in particular and deliberately portrayed the same fisherman now older (but with the same shirt, only more yellowed and tattered). I suspect that Bingham intended his fisherman to be the boy grown up. (Granted, seven years doesn’t account for the older man’s apparent age difference, but still!)

A friend of mine is a docent at the museum, and though he doesn’t know the specifics of these two paintings, he says that works are often hung so that they have “conversations” between them. In this case, you can look at one and literally turn around and look at the other.

So now I feel a compulsion to confirm that Bingham had done what I think he did. I’m no art scholar, but the Museum does have an impressive library (which I’ve used in the past), and I’ll bet I could find what I’m looking for there.

Everyone needs a hobby, right?