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George Caleb Bingham The County Election

What is happening in this painting?

George Caleb Bingham's The County Election has been described as "a crowded voting scene on the main street of a town in front of an open porch." The artist tells the story of the election through groups of people. 1. A judge asks a voter to swear he has not participated in the election at another location. Bingham used lighting and composition to draw attention to the two figures making them the focus of the entire scene.

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2. An election official waits for the voter to cast his ballot aloud. The voter has no way of knowing if his ballot is being recorded accurately. 3. A hopeful candidate tips his hat and urges a voter to take his card. The voter puts his hands in his pockets, as if to indicate he will not be influenced. 4. A well-dressed man reads the newspaper, while nearby three other men seem to be engaged in a heated discussion. These figures represent serious, well-informed voters. 5. A ragged man with a bloody bandage on his head sits slumped over and seems stunned, perhaps after a fight. Why do you think Bingham put him in the painting? 6. Two boys play a game of mumble-the-peg. This risky activity, played by tossing a knife in the air, may represent the "dangers" inherent in the game of politics. 7. An African American man pours an alcoholic drink for a jolly customer while behind him a voter who has already drunk too much is being supported by a friend. Do you think they should be allowed to vote? 8. A man seated on the steps sketching or taking notes is watched closely by two admirers. Could the man on the steps be the artist himself?

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Educational materials are made possible by the generosity of

George Caleb Bingham; American, 1811­1879; The County Election, 1852; oil on canvas; 38 x 52 inches; Gift of Bank of America 44:2001

Visiting the Museum

Tuesday­Sunday, 10:00 am­5:00 pm Friday, 10:00 am­9:00 pm Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day School and Group Tours are free and may be led by a trained docent (if requested) or may be self-guided by the teacher or group leader. Groups should include at least 15 and not more than 60 people. School groups should include adequate adult supervision: one adult per 10 children. All groups, whether led by a Museum docent or self-guided by a teacher, must contact the Museum to arrange a tour. Please see details for scheduling a tour on the Museum's web site at www.slam.org or contact 314.655.5484 [email protected] Please log on to www.slam.org/bingham for an interactive program to accompany this poster.

George Caleb Bingham Poster Project Team Bill Appleton, Louise Cameron, Tom Harper, Emily Horton, Mary Nichols, Lisa Stelling-Jokisch, Janeen Turk, Andrew Walker Edited by Mary Ann Steiner Designed by Lauri Kramer ©2007 Saint Louis Art Museum

George Caleb Bingham The County Election

What is happening in this painting?

George Caleb Bingham's The County Election has been described as "a crowded voting scene on the main street of a town in front of an open porch." The artist tells the story of the election through groups of people. Find these details in the color poster on the reverse. 1. A judge asks a voter to swear he has not participated in the election at another location. Bingham used lighting and composition to draw attention to the two figures making them the focus of the entire scene. 2. An election official waits for the voter to cast his ballot aloud. However, the voter has no way of knowing if his ballot is being recorded accurately. 3. A hopeful candidate tips his hat and urges a voter to take his card. The voter puts his hands in his pockets, as if to indicate he will not be influenced. 4. A well-dressed man reads the newspaper, while nearby three other men seem to be engaged in a heated discussion. These figures represent serious, well-informed voters. 5. A ragged man with a bloody bandage on his head sits slumped over and seems stunned, perhaps after a fight. Why do you think Bingham put him in the painting? 6. Two boys play a game of mumble-the-peg. This risky activity, played by tossing a knife in the air, may represent the "dangers" inherent in the game of politics. 7. An African American man pours an alcoholic drink for a jolly customer while behind him a voter who has already drunk too much is being supported by a friend. Do you think they should be allowed to vote? 8. A man seated on the steps sketching or taking notes is watched closely by two admirers. Could the man on the steps be the artist himself?

The County Election

George Caleb Bingham's The County Election is a rich and varied scene of democracy in action. The painting centers on candidates, officials, voters, and bystanders at a local election. The figure in a red shirt at the top of the steps stands before an election judge and swears that he will vote only once in the current election. Adult men of various ages wait to vote, celebrate Election Day, discuss the contest, and suffer the consequences of their festive excess. In the foreground, two boys play a game called "mumble-the-peg." The implication is that in time, they will move on to the more serious game of politics.

The Will of the People

Although most of the voters in Bingham's painting seem to take their civic duty seriously, a few try to undermine the will of the people. In addition to being an artist, Bingham was a politician, and in that capacity he expressed his confidence and faith in the American voter. Despite the inclusion of a man serving drinks to potential voters, Bingham depicts the election as a serious one, with the majority of voters responsibly exercising their right to vote.

One Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park Saint Louis, Missouri 63110-1380

George Caleb Bingham (1811­1879) produced more than 400 paintings during his lifetime; today many of his most important works can be seen at the Saint Louis Art Museum. The Museum has been steadily collecting the artist's masterpieces since the first gift of his work in 1911, and now boasts one of the largest and best Bingham collections in the world. The Museum has many of Bingham's drawings and prints as well as some of his best-known paintings, including works from every major period in Bingham's career and examples of all the subjects that intrigued him--portraits, landscapes, life on and around the river, and election scenes.

Appealing to the People

With the subject of elections, Bingham was able to bring the authority of his political experience to a work calculated to fascinate a wide audience. First, he chose a specifically American topic, one that was relevant to the lives of citizens across the country. To heighten the appeal of the composition, Bingham depicted an array of character types that would be familiar to viewers. It includes wealthy as well as less affluent voters, giving many viewers a character with which to identify.

Milestones in the life of George Caleb Bingham

Teaching suggestions

"Reading" the Painting Communication Arts Teaching Suggestions

CA1. Have students create a list of adjectives and verbs to describe their response to the painting. Look thoroughly. Observe every detail. Write a descriptive paragraph about the painting using these adjectives and verbs. 1.5; 2.1 CA2. Read Walt Whitman's "To a President" with your students. Whitman criticized Democratic President James Buchanan's support of slavery expansion in this poem. Discuss how Bingham's painting reflects "the politics of Nature" described by Whitman. 2.1, 2.4 Read Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" with your students. Compare and contrast the poem with the painting, focusing on tone, theme, and use of details. To extend the activity, have students write a poem modeled after "I Hear America Singing" but use the characters in the painting. Give each character a profession and describe how they too "sing." 2.1, 2.3 CA4. Encourage students to compose a narrative story about the events unfolding in the painting using three to five characters. Focus on the vivid setting, interesting characters, a realistic plot, relevant themes, and a realistic tone. 2.1 Some believe that The County Election is a biting commentary on politics, while others view it as a work praising the democratic process. Create a graphic organizer that examines the details of the painting and how they might fit into both categories. Then, discuss which angle you believe Bingham wanted to take, based on the evidence. 4.1 CA5. Each student can imagine that he or she is an editor for the New York Times in 1851, sent to investigate the election process in rural America. As they witness the events on election day they can write an opinion piece about the state of politics in Missouri. In the article, they should evaluate the political process in that state and use details from the painting to write the article. 2.3; 4.1 Help students "read" the painting before beginning activities. Ask them to take notes about details. The deeper the students look, the more they will discover. Here are some suggestions to get them digging into the work: · Describe the scene of the painting. · Who is present? Who is missing? · Describe in detail what people are wearing. · What activities are they participating in? · What do you think is happening in the painting?

1811 1819

Born in Virginia. Panic of 1819. Bingham family loses farm in foreclosure and moves to Missouri Territory. Apprenticed to cabinetmaker in Boonville. Begins painting portraits, marries, builds house at Arrow Rock. Travels to St. Louis, Philadelphia, southern U.S., exhibits work in New York. Elected Whig candidate to Missouri legislature, election overturned in recount. Wife and one son die. Elected representative from Saline County. Remarries. Begins famous painting, Emigration of Daniel Boone. Paints The County Election. Sent as Whig representative to national convention in Baltimore. Paints Stump Speaking and Verdict of the People, continuing the Election Series. Travels to Dusseldorf, Germany to study art. Returns to Missouri, becomes Captain, U.S. Volunteer Reserves.

Self-Portrait of the Artist, 1834-35 oil on canvas Saint Louis Art Museum Eliza McMillan Trust 57:1934

1828 1833­1836

Social Studies Teaching Suggestions

SS1. On a small blue banner above the voters, Bingham inscribed the words "the will of the people is the Supreme law," a sentiment which is similar to Missouri's state motto. Consider some other American patriotic phrases that might fit the painting. Create a bumper sticker with your chosen phrase. 2.1; 4.1 SS2. Observe the clothing worn by people in The County Election. How do their clothes reflect who they are and what they do for a living? How has fashion changed or remained the same since Bingham's day? Design a modern outfit using elements from Bingham's characters. 1.1; 1.2; 2.4 SS3. Notice how the candidate in The County Election positions himself to get his point across right before the vote is cast. Write a dialogue between the candidate and the voter based on the facial expressions and body language of both people. 2.1 SS4. The County Election was intended to be reproduced for sale. As an artist and an active politician, Bingham was counting on heightened interest in hotly contested issues of the Union, slavery, and states' rights to sell his artwork. Imagine that you are the publisher of Bingham's work. Develop an advertising flier for The County Election that you think would appeal to the voters of Bingham's time. Consider the time period and the audience as you create your ad. 2.4 SS5: Review the list of events in Bingham's life found on this poster. Construct a graphic timeline that includes these events as well as major events in Missouri, U.S., and world history. What kind of conclusions can you draw about how much Bingham was a "man of his time." 1.6

1837­1847

Electioneering Types Lent by the People of Missouri, General Purchase Funds Reprinted with the consent of the People of Missouri.

1846

1848

1849

Drawings for The County Election

Prior to painting The County Election, Bingham produced a series of 18 figure drawings in which he worked out details of costume, gesture, and pose. In some cases, such as the drawing Electioneering Types, Bingham tried out one pose first, but then sketched another option in the margin. For example, in the painting he decided to have the politician lifting his hat instead of the more passive gesture of pointing with his finger, which can be seen in the original drawing.

1851 1852

1854­55

1856­1859

Missouri Artist and Politician

George Caleb Bingham's success as an artist and as a politician was tied to his identity as a resident of Missouri. Bingham grew up in the towns of Franklin and Arrow Rock, Missouri, and began his art career by painting well-to-do residents of Columbia and St. Louis. In the 1840s, he achieved nationwide recognition for his work and had his paintings displayed in exhibitions on the East Coast. In spite of temporary residence in other states, Bingham was known as a Missouri artist and as a painter of everyday life west of the Mississippi. He was an active member of the Whig political party throughout most of his life, running for office several times and serving as a member of the state legislature in 1848.

1861

1862­1865 Appointed state treasurer for provisional state government. 1866­1877 Runs unsuccessfully for U. S. Congress. Completes controversial painting Order No. 11. Produces larger version of Order No. 11. Second wife dies. Remarries. Becomes first art professor at the University of Missouri. 1879 Dies at home, Kansas City.

Two Citizens Conversing (detail) Lent by the People of Missouri, Gift of the Beaumont Foundation. Reprinted with the consent of the People of Missouri.

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