Canvassing for a Vote, 1852–53
Toned lithograph with applied watercolor
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas
This mid-nineteenth-century scene is set in George Caleb Bingham’s hometown of Arrow Rock, Missouri. A politician speaks directly with three men while another man is standing just behind the group. Their clothing and appearances indicate different social classes and age groups. The conversation is mildly engaging as each man is displaying varying degrees of interest—only one of the men is actually looking at the politician as he speaks while the other two stare into the distance. Bingham’s close placement of the horse’s rear to the politician’s head might not be accidental. The artist was active in politics throughout his life and was known to question the sometimes dubious character of other politicians.
George Caleb Bingham (1811–1879) was an artist and politician from Missouri. He was the first American painter with a national reputation to live and work west of the Mississippi. During his teenage years, Bingham pursued various occupations including cabinet-making and a calling to the ministry. It was only when he encountered an itinerant portrait painter in Boonvile, Missouri, that he decided to pursue an artistic career. The self-taught artist began painting portraits in 1833. Bingham was most prolific between 1845 and 1860, and he produced many remarkable artworks that depicted the social and political life on the frontier. He was also active in civic affairs and politics throughout most of his adult life.