Bingham work to be unveiled at ball

The portrait to join sole other Bingham work at MU gallery.
Thursday, May 4, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:22 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

The gray-blue eyes of James Madison Gordon gaze calmly from his rosy complexion. With one pale hand drawing out the breast of a three-piece suit, a broad bow tie flattened at his neck, Gordon looks like a man who has just stepped out of the winter cold.

A portrait of the 19th-century Columbia lawmaker painted by celebrated Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879) will be unveiled Saturday at the Paintbrush Ball, a formal yearly fundraising event held by MU’s Museum of Art and Archaeology. The event will begin at Pickard Hall on the MU campus.

In attendance will be the painting’s donor, John Ashford, a Missouri native who now serves as chairman and chief executive officer of the Hawthorn Group, a consulting firm. The guest list — which Bruce Cox, the museum’s interim assistant director, pegged at about 190 people — includes University of Missouri System President Elson Floyd and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton.

Several works by Bingham, a self-taught artist best known for his representations of the American frontier and luminous portraits of life on the Missouri River, are displayed at major metropolitan art museums in New York, Boston and San Francisco. He was also the first professor of art to teach at MU, said Joan Stack, the museum’s associate curator of European and American art.

The painting donated by Ashford will be the second Bingham creation with a permanent spot in the museum’s Gallery of European and American Art. It is believed to have been painted after 1860, at a time when his distinctively animated style was beginning to give way to a more passive realism.

Stack said the staff is thrilled to have acquired another example of Bingham’s work. “He’s the only (artist) who ever represented the American West at the time and actually recorded it as a viewer,” Stack said. “He was there.”

Cox said the event will move to the Reynolds Alumni Center later in the evening, where one silent and one live auction will be conducted on items donated privately or by Columbia-area businesses. Last year, the auctions alone raised about $10,000 for the museum.

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