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George Caleb Bingham - Fur Trader on the Missouri River

by Alexandra Tuschka

What an unusual image motif: two people are sailing on a boat across the still waters of the Missouri. The older rower does not seem to greet the viewer as friendly as the young man in the middle. He has his head in his hand and smiles tiredly at us. It is already evening and probably both have a hard day's work behind them. In the center, hidden under the cloth, is the fur ball. Behind it, compositionally well thought out, the outlines of an island blend with the pink sky.

The boat stretches almost across the entire width of the picture. As a counterweight to the older man, the dark outline of an animal stands out at the front end of the boat. This is also clearly reflected in the water. On closer inspection, one realizes that this cannot be a cat - the animal is usually identified as a bear cub or a fox.

Almost motionless appears the depicted moment. Also the rudder of the man is shown almost vertically and thus avoids any dynamics. Typical for the painter are the clear composition lines that can also be found here. Thus, the flat boat runs horizontally almost through the entire picture space. This line is taken up again in the island in the background. The animal and the old man delimit the sides of the picture vertically. Only the boy and the cloud formation set diagonal accents.

The painting title, however, has been changed. Originally, it revealed that there was a "French merchant with his mongrel son." This alluded to the hot topic of ethnic mixing during Bingham's lifetime. After the painting was sold to the American Art Union, it was given this, more neutral, title.

George Caleb Bingham - Fur Trader on the Missouri River

Oil on canvas, ca. 1845, 73,5 x 93 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York


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