George Caleb Bingham, the realist painter famous for his portrayals of Missouri frontier life, will be the subject of a lecture series in April by Paul C. Nagel, a former University of Missouri administrator.
The Missouri Folklore Society received a $2,500 grant from the Missouri Humanities Council for the program. “George Caleb Bingham and His Missouri” is a biographical study of the artist’s life, artwork and politics and will feature reproductions of his work from museums in Missouri, New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.
The talks will celebrate Nagel’s new book, “George Caleb Bingham: Missouri’s Famed Artist and Forgotten Politician,” which will be published by the University of Missouri Press as part of its Missouri Heritage series.
Nagel said he was interested in writing a book that would be relevant and interesting to the general public instead of the “learned elite.” The book, expected to be published next year, will include a recently discovered landscape painting of Bingham’s titled “Horse Thief.”
To Nagel, a writer, lecturer and former vice president for academic affairs in the UM system, Bingham represents the complexity and character of Missouri.
“If we had to nominate one person who represented the state, who was a true Missourian, I’d nominate George Caleb Bingham,” Nagel said. “His heart really was in Missouri.”
Nagel was born in Independence and taught history at MU. He has been a writer for 25 years. It was through his biographical work that his interest in Bingham began.
“The beginning was when I was writing my history of Missouri back in 1975,” Nagel said. “I became enthralled with Bingham’s view of the electoral process. And with my Missourian background, it seemed plausible that I would write about him.”
In addition to being a world-famous artist, Bingham was also active in Missouri politics, serving in the General Assembly and as state treasurer and state adjutant general. Many of his paintings depicted scenes from early political life in Missouri.
“Bingham as a politician also crept into his art career,” Nagel said. “I can’t think of another artist whose politics and art were so closely linked.”
Bingham divided his time between Columbia and other areas in Missouri. He was named MU’s first professor of art in 1877, a position he held until he died in 1879. He maintained his principal Missouri art studio in Columbia.
“Columbia was the center of the world for Bingham,” Nagel said. “He was in and out of Columbia for most of his life.”