Missouri celebrates painter George Caleb Bingham’s 200th birthday

He was one of America’s greatest regional painters, and next month he turns 200. George Caleb Bingham captured the life of fur trappers and steamboats along the Missouri River, and the horrible civilian cost of the Civil War.

A self-taught painter who grew up in Missouri, Bingham witnessed the state transform from an underpopulated frontier into a thriving center of commerce and agriculture. The above painting, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, was painted in 1845 and captured a scene that was already becoming a thing of the past. Individual fur trappers, generally French, were being replaced by larger companies. His Luminist style and the little details like the cat earned him a lasting reputation. Actually, many researchers think it’s a bear cub, but it looks like a cat to me!

Bingham was a realist. The boy in the picture is half French and half Indian, a common enough sight in those days but not something that “respectable” society wanted to talk about. The original title for the painting was French Trader, Half-Breed Son, but the American Art Union changed the name when they put it on display. Yet another example of a powerful institution whitewashing America’s past.

Bingham was born 20 March 1811 and Missouri is planning several exhibitions and events. Kansas City’s famous Nelson-Atkins Museum will have an exhibition of his work from March 9 to December 2. At The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, there’s another Bingham retrospective from March 10 to September 9. There are several other events taking place to mark the bicentennial. You can find an entire list here.Perhaps his most famous painting is Order No. 11, Martial Law shown below. This order by Union General Thomas Ewing in 1863 forced civilians out of their homes in several Missouri counties bordering Kansas. It was in retaliation for a Confederate guerrilla raid that destroyed Lawrence, Kansas, killing 200 mostly unarmed men and boys. General Ewing knew that secessionist civilians helped the guerrillas, so he decided to move them out of the region. Bingham was a Union man and was as shocked as anyone else by the Lawrence Massacre, but he thought punishing civilians was unjust. His painting was an instant success and has become a permanent symbol of Missouri’s bitter Civil War. It will be on display at the Truman Museum exhibition.

[Fur Traders Descending the Missouri courtesy The Yorck Project. Order No. 11, Martial Law courtesy Americasroof]

Six new hotels fuse art and luxury in Melbourne

I love it when art and hotels come together. I found a pair of gems in Orlando back in March, but what’s coming to Melbourne, Australia over the next two years is even more exciting. Indy luxury hotel group Art Series Hotels is spending $300 million to open six new properties — all focused on art. Each hotel will be inspired by a famous Australian artist in name and design, and each will be unique.

The first opened its doors last week. The Cullen is a boutique hotel in Prahran, Australia. At a cost of $48 million, it offers only 115 rooms and is home to more than 450 pieces by Adam Cullen. An in-house curator attends to the artwork. Two of Cullen’s custom designed cows grace the foyer, welcoming guests to an aesthetic treat. There are traces of Cullen all over the hotel — from the restaurants to the phone messages to the bikes and smart cars that guests can hire. Rates start at $208 a night.

The Olsen, which will be Art Series Hotels’ flagship property, is set to open in February 2010. Honoring painter John Olsen, it will be located on Chapel Street, right in Melbourne‘s shopping district. There will be 239 rooms on 15 storeys and will feature the world’s largest glass-bottomed swimming pool … which will hang over Chapel Street. The third hotel, the Blackman, is scheduled to open in April, with the remaining properties scheduled for 2011.

Along the Hudson: The Hudson River School and top places to see the paintings

Four hundred years ago, when Henry Hudson first saw the river that was named after him, I imagine he felt inspired by its beauty. The river not only captivated Hudson’s attention motivating him to take a look-see far up into its reaches, it has also inspired artists to capture its essence, literally and figuratively.

There are places along the Hudson River’s shores where you can imagine painters who developed The Hudson River School sitting with their canvas creating their masterpieces. Unlike how it sounds, The Hudson River School is not a place at all, but an art movement that occurred during the 19th century, and the first to be deemed American.

With the festivities happening in the towns and cities along the Hudson this year to celebrate it’s discovery, it seems fitting to give a nod to these artists who were inspired by the Hudson’s beauty and used its images as a metaphor to express ideas about what the United States represents. What are the themes? Discovery, exploration and settlement. Head west, and you’ll see these themes over and over again. These guys were onto something.

The scenes you see in the paintings, however, are not exactly as is. The artists took parts of scenery that they had sketched in their travels and put them together in such a way to make their point that nature, and people’s communion with it, are testaments to God’s glory. Communing with nature, therefore, is a way to experience God’s power.

The painting Kindred Spirits by Asher B. Durand is such an example. The two men in the painting are of the artist and Thomas Cole. You can read what the painting represented to Cole in this overview of The Hudson River School by Thomas Hampson.

As Hampson explains, such themes are also expressed in the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau who helped found Transcendentalism. To them, and to these artists, what better place to be a witness to the power of God and the human ability to feel and become empowered by it, than in the natural world found in the the American landscape?

Not only the Hudson River is depicted by Hudson River School artists, most notably Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand, but so are the White Mountains in New Hampshire and other areas of the Catskills.

For a close look at one of the later Hudson River School painters who helped develop the art movement called Luminism that developed from the Hudson River School, visit Olana, Frederic Edwin Church’s home along the Hudson River not far from Hudson, New York.

Here, Church and his wife raised their family and created a home that is a visual masterpiece. When I visited Olana, I was intrigued by Church’s treatment of the landscape. He had certain trees cut down along the river banks near his home to create a certain look to the scenery and better highlight the Hudson River’s beauty.

Olana is merely one place to see Hudson River School artwork. Several museums have pieces in their collections.

If you are walking in the mountains and along the river that were the inspiration for this artwork, see if the muse strikes you. Maybe another art movement is percolating.

Museum Junkie: Futurism at the Tate Modern

“Today we are founding Futurism, because we want to free our country from the smelly gangrene of its professors, archaeologists, tour guides and antiquarians.”

On February 20, 1909, the front page of the Italian newspaper Le Figaro was taken up with the Manifesto of Futurism, a new movement of artists, poets, and performers who revolutionized modern art. They rejected all the past–traditional painting, museums, history, religion, marriage, and just about everything else they could think of while embracing modernity in all its forms. They loved movement, anarchy, technology. When World War One started in 1914, they hailed it as the first modern war and formed the Lombard Battalion of Volunteer Cyclists and Automobilists. Their Manifesto stated that war was “the world’s only hygiene.”

The energy of their work, shown here in Impressions in a Dance Hall (1914) by Belgian Futurist Jules Schmalziguag, soon captivated the art world.


Futurism is a new exhibition at London’s Tate Modern that studies the development of this movement. The exhibition covers the movement’s origins in Italy and its rapid spread across Europe from England to Russia. What started with painting soon made its impact felt in sculpture, literature, architecture, even music. Part of Futurism’s success was the artists’ shameless self-promotion, with more than fifty manifestos coming out in the five years after the initial one in La Figaro. Some of these manifestos and Futurist literary magazines are also on display, along with paintings from the competing movement of Cubism, The Futurists were opposed to Cubism, of course, because it took attention away from them, and were in the habit of calling Picasso a “boor.” They called themselves boors too, so it’s hard to tell if they were really insulting him, or themselves, or neither, or both.

The Futurists would have loved seeing their work in the Tate Modern. The building is a converted power station with a soaring central space that was once taken up by a massive turbine. The museum is filled with modern art, installation pieces, and video displays. This ultramodern setting may have even made the Futurists forget that museums were nothing but “graveyards”.

“Museums, graveyards!” the original Manifesto fomented. “They’re the same thing, really, because of their grim profusion of corpses that no one remembers.”

Futurism started at the Tate Modern on June 12 and runs until September 20.