GEORGE CALEB BINGHAM, HORSE
A Recent Discovery
Fred R. Kline, M. A., Independent Art Historian
Copyright 1999-2012 by Fred R. Kline
Information in this paper may change as the result of ongoing research.
Fred R. Kline, Director & Editor
George Caleb Bingham Catalogue Raisonne Supplement of Paintings and Drawings
7 Avenida Vista Grande-Suite B-7 Santa Fe, NM 87508
Telephone: 505-9881103 Email : FRK@GeorgeCalebBingham.Org
Dr. Paul C. Nagel, Historian and Biographer
Note: Dr. Nagel’s
biography of Bingham, George Caleb Bingham, Missouri’s
Famed Painter and Forgotten Politician ( University of Missouri
Press, Apr. 2005) features Horse Thief as a new Bingham
Paul Nagel has examined and authenticated George Caleb Bingham’s Horse
and supports publication of the research herein.
Dr. John Wilmerding, Sarofim Professor of Art, Princeton University
William Kloss, Art Historian, Washington, DC
Dr. Elizabeth Johns, Professor Emerita of the History of Art,
University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Barbara Groseclose, Professor, Department of History of Art, Ohio
The four additional art historians and Bingham specialists listed
above have reviewed the research and examined images of Horse Thief and they have
kindly offered their support for the publication of the research herein.
Pictorial & Compositional
Comparative Natural History
to “Daniel Boone” & “Election Series”
Comparative Lack of Signature & Date
Early Author & Subject
Dusseldorf School Consideration and Influence
Artist GEORGE CALEB BINGHAM, American, 1811-1879
Title HORSE THIEF
Medium Oil on canvas
Size 29 x 35 ¾ inches
Painted 1852, New York City
The George Caleb Bingham Catalogue Raisonne Supplement of Paintings and Drawings: Horse Thief, CRS-1.
Goupil & Co
Collection of the artist
Nathaniel Phillips, St. Louis & Boston
Collection of the artist
Clara Bingham King, Stephenville, Texas
By descent in the family of Clara Bingham King
Private Collection, Texas
Nick Brock Antiques, Dallas, Texas
Private Collection, South Dartmouth, Massachusetts
FRK note on provenance:
The uncommon 1851-53 Goupil & Co. stencil on “Horse Thief”, the period in which Goupil was Bingham’s dealer and when he was frequently in New York, states the dealer’s early New York address and offers a small window of time during which they commissioned paintings and prints of “Western character” from the artist. Two of those commissioned paintings and the related prints are known from 1851-52. Importantly, Goupil also commissioned a print to be made of “The Emigration of Daniel Boone”, recently rejected by the American Art Union, marking the end of an association that brought the artist essential sales and widespread renown. Bingham then began to rework “Daniel Boone” and create new paintings with a renewed fervor. In New York during 1852, and recently finished with “Daniel Boone”, Bingham doubtless encountered Asher Durand's “God's Judgment Upon Gog”, a grandiose fire-and-brimstone Biblical allegory, in the manner of Thomas Cole and John Martin, altogether shocking to see amongst Durand’s usually tranquil body of work. “God’s Judgment” was on exhibit at the National Academy of Design, of which Durand was President. Bingham's quite evident competitive response to “God's Judgment” was to paint “Horse Thief”, a more symbolic and restrained Biblical allegory, more stylistically similar to Cole but in clear counterpoint to Durand’s narrative of a vengeful God. “Horse Thief”, in turn, can be clearly linked back as a pendant to “Daniel Boone”, in many ways a Biblical allegory itself. As a contrasting link to “Daniel Boone”, “Horse Thief” suggests, with symbolic allusions to the teachings of Moses and Jesus, the rule of Constitutional law as opposed to vigilante law, pointing out that Boone’s new frontier and the growing Nation would need a foundation of law and order. Like Durand’s “God’s Judgment”, Bingham’s “Horse Thief” was a startling variation from his standard works; arguably it was his most personal painting (along with "Martial Law/Order #11", 1869-70), touching his deepest moral convictions. From an early age Bingham had studied the Bible and the law, had considered being a preacher and a lawyer, and for most of his life, as a Whig politician, fought for the primacy of Constitutional law. Goupil’s encouragement to revise “Daniel Boone”, and their commissioning more paintings, undoubtedly gave Bingham renewed confidence after the Art Union’s rejection and thus added a vital element in assisting the creation of “Horse Thief”.
The best documentary evidence known for “Horse Thief" appeared in the earliest published article, by May Simonds, which considered Bingham’s work and confirms to my satisfaction that it was owned by Bingham and consigned to Nathaniel Phillips' piano store in Boston, where it was no doubt exhibited with its pendant “Daniel Boone”. In that article, according to an old friend of Bingham, Matthew Hastings (1834-1919, twenty years younger than Bingham, who became a noted and highly respected artist in St. Louis), Bingham is quoted as saying to Hastings, in an undated conversation:“The ‘Horse Thief’ excited much attention in Boston.” ( May Simonds, “A Pioneer Painter”, American Methodist Magazine, October 1902, p.76). Nathaniel Phillips owned “Daniel Boone” from the time he was a merchant in St. Louis, before moving to Boston. “Daniel Boone” was originally consigned to him by Bingham in 1852 to be raffled off but the raffle did not transpire and it was instead purchased by Phillips who, at the end of his life, donated “Daniel Boone” in 1890 to Washington University, St. Louis. “Horse Thief” in all likelihood was also consigned to Phillips around the same time as “Daniel Boone” and became attached to “Daniel Boone” and Boston in Simond’s published account of Bingham’s comment. This reliable evidence informed E. Maurice Bloch’s research and supported the continued attribution of “Horse Thief” in his Bingham Catalogue Raisonne, although he had only a title and a one reliable witness. At some point, Phillips returned “Horse Thief” to Bingham.
Bingham went to Houston, Texas in 1861 to settle the estate of his brother Matthias Amend Bingham who went to Texas in 1835 and fought as an officer with Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto; he became Quartermaster General of the Texas Republic, stayed in close touch with his Missouri family, and later died in Houston in 1861, leaving no recorded family. In 1873 Bingham again went to Houston, and to Austin and Stephenville, Texas ( where his married daughter Clara Bingham King lived). Bingham went once more to Stephenville in 1878 (a year before his death). In all likelihood he gave “Horse Thief” to Clara on either his 1873 or 1878 trip. Of George Caleb Bingham’s six children, his daughter Clara was the only one for whom Bloch had found living descendants. Clara was survived by eight children, several of whom are known to have lived well into the 20th century. Of Bingham’s eight brothers and sisters, some probably followed their oldest brother Matthias to Texas and became associated with Clara and her family.
From 1901, when Clara died in Stephenville, “Horse Thief”, unsigned and not inscribed (normal for a Bingham painting), and with no attached notes, descended in Clara's extended family without being ascribed to Bingham. Stephenville, Clara Bingham King’s home for almost fifty years, is 150 miles from Dallas-Forth Worth where a number of Bingham descendents came to live, as well as in other Texas cities, during the 20th-21st centuries. Only two Bingham relations in Dallas were interviewed in the 1940s and 1960s by Bloch, both of whom noted some Bingham paintings in their possession. Other distant Bingham relations in Texas, beyond the 1960s, were not contacted or noted by Bloch or later found.
In 1999. "Horse Thief" was acquired from Nick Brock Antiques, Dallas, Texas (not ascribed to Bingham); and thence, conclusively given to Bingham by the BCRS committee, passed to its current owner, Private Collection, South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
2006:The George Caleb Bingham Catalogue Raisonne Supplement of Paintings and Drawings. Fred R. Kline, Editor. George Caleb Bingham, Horse Thief. Exhibited online at www,GeorgeCalebBingham.org. Ongoing with revisions from April 2006-February 2010, Santa Fe, NM.
2005: “George Caleb Bingham, The Artist and His World”.
Curated by Paul Nagel. The State Historical Society of Missouri, Main
Gallery, University of Missouri, Columbia , MO. April 22, 2005-August
19, 2005 Horse Thief featured with related drawings as a new
discovery and exhibited with other Bingham paintings, drawings, and
prints from the SHSM collection. Opening Lectures by Paul Nagel and
Fred R. Kline
Brief Bibliography (see below Primary & Selected Bibliography):
2006: Fred R. Kline, Editor. The George Caleb Bingham Catalogue Raisonne Supplement of Paintings and Drawings. CRS-1, Horse Thief. Illustration #1 & Research. Published online at www.GeorgeCalebBingham.org. Ongoing with revisions from April 2006-February 2010, Santa Fe, NM.
2006: Fred R. Kline. "George Caleb Bingham, Artist of Missouri and the American Frontier". Published online at www.GeorgeCalebBingham.org. Ongoing with revisions from 2005- 2010, Santa Fe, NM
2005: Paul Nagel. George Caleb Bingham, Missouri’s
Famed Painter and Forgotten Politician . Horse Thief illustrated
full page in color page 45 and noted as a new discovery on pages 39-41.
University of Missouri Press, 2005
1986: E. Maurice Bloch, The Paintings
of George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonne. Horse Thief
# 548 (Attributed), page 269. University of Missouri Press, 1986.
1967: E. Maurice Bloch,George Caleb
Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonne.Horse Thief # 453 (Possible
Painting), p.171. University of California Press, 1967.
Until its recent discovery, George Caleb Bingham’s Horse
Thief had been lost for some 150 years. It had been virtually
a ghost painting, with no description other than a title and a few clues from reliable sources to guide
research. In spite of so little to go on, Horse Thief is listed as Attributed-#
548 in E. Maurice Bloch’s final 1986 Bingham catalogue raisonne
(Bloch/1/p.269), carried over from its first listing by Bloch twenty
years earlier as References to Possible Paintings-#453 (Bloch/3/p.171).
It is among the ranks of some 100 unlocated and generally undescribed paintings
attributed to Bingham. Based on traditional reliable sources, Bloch
kept alive the likelihood of Horse Thief’s existence. The provenance (above) tracks the painting's history based on all available evidence. In any case, it is clear that Horse Thief had been well cared for up to the time it was offered
for sale in 1999 as an anonymous painting under conventional art
market circumstances in Texas.
The artist’s lifestyle and haphazard record
keeping could certainly explain why there was so little to go on. Bingham
worked quickly; he rarely signed his paintings; he kept no log book
of work produced or sold; verbal agreements were common; and finally,
he stayed exceptionally busy coordinating a hectic life filled with painting,
politics, family (including three wives and tragic deaths of several wives and children), and a great deal of traveling.
Although Horse Thief can be seen as a somewhat atypical allegorical narrative, clear documentary and stylistic evidence of Bingham’s
authorship finds conclusive support in many ways: 1. Most importantly with five of his drawings,
all of which suggest a clear modeling and subject connection to comparative
subjects depicted in Horse Thief (see below). Three of the drawings find their only known application in Horse Thief; and two drawings were used twice, in another painting and in Horse Thief. 2. The close-to exact comparative relationship to details in his paintings from 1845-1855 and particularly with the suggested pendant The Emigration of Daniel Boone.
Virtually all of the natural history details and small
figurative details depicted in Bingham’s landscape, narrative,
and genre paintings of the 1845-1855 period compare accurately and close-to exactly—in their
style, selection, careful drawing, and distinctive palette—with
similar details in Horse Thief.
The date-and-place specific Goupil & Co stencil
on the verso of Horse Thief—stating their specific 1851-53
address at 289 Broadway in New York City—pinpoints Bingham’s
documented New York period when he had a working artist-dealer affiliation
with Goupil. The narrowly focused Goupil trademark is a rare but entirely appropriate clue to find on a Bingham painting from this 1851-53 period.
The stencil dating also points to the years
of a Thomas Cole revival in New York, a revival noted by Bingham and
to which Horse Thief is clearly stylistically related. As part of that Cole revival, a surprisingly atypical painting exhibited in New York at the National Academy of Design by the renowned Asher B. Durand (then President of the NAD), God's Judgment upon Gog (1851-52), apparently influenced Bingham's creation of Horse Thief, itself atypical and surprising from Bingham. Undoubtedly, Bingham would have seen Durand's painting on exhibition in New York as he was working there on painting and print commissions from Goupil and reworking Daniel Boone. Evidently, based on the sharp point-counterpoint of the two paintings, God's Judgment clearly became a competitive inspiration to Bingham in creating Horse Thief. Durand's theme was the wrath of a vengeful God, certainly a model for vigilantism (the anti-theme of Horse Thief), while Bingham's response suggested in stark contrast the compassion of a moralistic God, a model for law and order: Bingham replaces and evolves the figure of Durand's God with the symbolic figure of Moses holding the Ten Commandments. Neither Durand nor Bingham would attempt such an experimental subject again, although Bingham came close with his theatrically moralistic Civil War painting Martial Law-Order No. 11.
Bingham’s authorship of Horse Thief finds
compelling documentary support with the painting’s correlation
to Francis Nicholson’s print Landscape Composition,I-11,
an instructional print that bears an integral relationship to two of
Bingham’s paintings: Horse Thief (Bloch/1/#548) and one of his Dusseldorf paintings, Moonlight
Scene: Castle on the Rhine (Bloch/1/#303). In both paintings,
this print evidently served as a pictorial and compositional source;
a “source” that was characteristically transformed by Bingham into an essentially new work. Chronologically, at its earliest, Bingham’s first use of the print was in Horse Thief and then some six years later in Moonlight Scene. Bloch has illustrated
this very print as a specific “instruction book” example available to Bingham in Nicholson’s 1823 book, The
Practice of Drawing and Painting Landscapes from Nature…Etc. (Bloch/3/plate
105). While suggesting an “apparent” use by Bingham of
such sources, Bloch did not then or later link this or another specific
print as a source for a painting by Bingham. As noted now in this research
for the first time, both Horse Thief and Moonlight Scene illustrate
the clearest use by Bingham of a specific instruction book compositional source in
his paintings; in this case, in at least two of his imaginative landscapes.
After study of the actual landscapes
that were a part of Bingham’s experience—particularly around
Arrow Rock, Missouri and its Missouri River environs which include
forests, ravines, gorges, and rock bluffs--the locale of Horse
Thief seems less imaginative or made-up than an amalgam of landscape
elements based on the artist’s memories of real places he had
In addition to Horse Thief’s undoubted
compositional relationship to the Nicholson print, the compositional
principle of Horse Thief also proves to be, with slight variations,
closely comparative if not identical to all of Bingham’s 1850’s
landscape paintings(see below)—including importantly the landscape
setting of The Emigration of Daniel Boone. The repeated and
characteristic use in these landscapes of a geometrically structured
pattern of spatial division suggests a signature stylistic approach
entirely in keeping with Bloch’s analysis of Bingham’s
landscape composition. This signature-pattern, also perceptively described
by John Wilmerding, provides a consistent and decisive visual link
echoing from painting to painting, a pattern clearly laid down
in Horse Thief.
As Bloch further notes in regard to Bingham’s
organizational clarity, the figurative subjects that appear among the
artist’s some 25 narratives create structured pyramidal arrangements
in virtually every painting—excepting the large crowd scenes
in the “Election” series. In Horse Thief that
signature form is articulated by the four figures that create the base
of the pyramid and the symbolic figurative stone that rises at the
There can be no question that the artistically rare and historically
significant “horse thief” subject fits well within the
Western frontier context of Bingham’s body of work and develops
the artist’s often stated intention "to record the political and
social history of my time and place". Bingham was doubtless aware of
the long standing horse thievery problem in Missouri. He was a noted politician and citizen of
Missouri, and a nationally active Whig as well, when the nation’s
first Anti Horse Thief Association was forming; it was officially established
in Luray, Missouri in 1854. The AHTA’s stated purpose was to
engage their own fraternal association of law-abiding vigilantes to combat the
theft of horses in Missouri and to stop the “lynch law” method
of frontier justice. This combined situation of horse thievery and
lynching had been a festering home-grown Missouri problem for some
years, and equally a problem of national importance since Missouri
also represented America’s Western frontier. Horse Thief offered
an ideal nationalistic subject for Bingham, “The Missouri Artist” who
fervently sought national recognition through his art for himself and for his home state.
Drawing on Bingham’s letters, Bloch emphasized: “In
the mid-1850s, when Bingham’s political, social, and artistic
ideas began to coalesce, he conceived of his painting as a suitable
means of expressing himself against injustice and wrongdoing" (Bloch/1/p.22). It now appears that Bingham quietly took his first, essentially unobserved,
step in this direction during the early 1850s with Horse Thief. Martial
Law (1865/70), the emotional fulfillment of Bingham’s widely
quoted vow to avenge a Union-ordered injustice to civilians during
the Civil War, was his last known venture into a narrative of social
reform. Both Horse Thief and Martial Law share Bingham’s
sense of Biblical morality and Constitutional justice.
Horse Thief, much in keeping with Bingham’s
experimental ventures into landscape, can readily be seen as his clearest
homage to the allegorical and moralistic landscapes of Thomas Cole.
Importantly, the religious overtones of Cole’s “The Cross
in the World” series, and even Frederick Edwin Church’s
later related lament, To the Memory of Cole(1848)—with their
attendant Christian crosses rising in the wilderness—appear to
have encouraged Bingham’s use of Old and New Testament symbolism
in Horse Thief--as did Durand's painting, God's Judgment, already mentioned. Among American artists, a Cole
revival was very much in vogue in the early 1850s, as was the popular
idea of America’s God-sanctioned "Manifest Destiny". Bingham boldly introduced
into Horse Thief a socially conscious narrative infused with
moralistic and legalistic overtones, a dual theme which neither Cole nor he had previously
attempted; however, the theme did reflect Bingham's earliest boyhood ambitions of becoming a preacher and a lawyer, characteristics of which were strongly evident throughout his life. Horse Thief’s allegorical narrative presents,
in the style of a Cole-like miniature drama, a scene of potential “injustice
and wrongdoing” wherein vigilante “justice” can be
seen to ultimately threaten Mosaic law, Christian morality, and the
Constitutional right of trial by jury. It is an impressive performance
by Bingham: a brilliant model of narrative concision, embedded symbolism, and controlled melodrama,
and it characteristically reveals, as Bloch notes in regard to Daniel
Boone, “a remarkable grasp of form and content”.
E. Maurice Bloch’s monumental study of George
Caleb Bingham’s paintings and drawings has guided this attribution
and lends its respected authority as mentor to our own observations.
Bloch’s impeccable scholarship has led to the development of any connoisseurship
we may have acquired in regard to Bingham’s work. Our procedure
for this attribution followed the general guidelines Bloch used for
his own attributions of many unsigned Bingham paintings. He suggested
a stylistic analysis based generally on Bingham’s “precise
and careful drawing and his organizational clarity, reinforced by available
documentary evidence and other relevant data”. It is clear from
the accumulated evidence, both stylistic and documentary, that Bingham’s
authorship of Horse Thief has been established. Horse
Thief now offers for appreciation and study a long lost painting
of major importance by George Caleb Bingham.
Horse Thief was
purchased in near-pristine condition in its presumed original frame.
There were no paint losses in the figurative elements and only very
minor losses in small areas of landscape, sky, and outer edges.
When purchased, the canvas was stiff and creased from pressure against
the stretcher. Normal craquelure was evident throughout the entire
surface paint. However, the verso revealed a dramatic and
pervasive web of cracking in the gesso ground; consequently, a stabilizing
relining was deemed imperative. Very light cleaning and varnishing
were also carried out and the minor losses were inpainted. Two windows
in the relined canvas preserve the two stencils, Goupil (supplier) and
Rowney (manufacturer). The painting was brought to its present good
condition by John Andolsek in Santa Fe, February 2000.
Stencil # 1: Goupil & Co, Artist's Colourmen,
289 Broadway, New York (1851-53 at this address). Stencil # 2:
G. Rowney & Co, Manufacturers, 51 Rathbone Place, London. (ca.1851-53).
Stencils for the manufacturer (Rowney) and the supplier (Goupil) are
known to appear together on American canvases. (see Alexander Katlan. American
Artists' Materials, Vol. I . Soundview Press. Madison, CT, 1992.).
Due to the pervasive relined
condition among Bingham’s paintings in museum collections, the catalogue raisonne (Bloch/1)
rarely makes note of any stencil marks or inscriptions [only one Rowney stencil is noted]. Apparently, during
the dark ages of the conservation arts, and without any notes being
made, most of Bingham’s paintings had been relined long ago and irretrievably flattened, thus erasing their original surface. Any possible stencil clue, which could lead to a supplier or
manufacturer and possibly to provenance information, is almost totally
unaccounted for in Bloch’s study of Bingham's works. Horse
Thief's painted surface, in spite of a threatening state of craquelure,
had remained stable under obviously close to ideal conditions and was
only recently carefully cleaned and relined and still retains its original surface.
The stenciled supplier's mark on the back of Horse
Thief clearly reads: Goupil & Co, Artist's Colourmen,
289 Broadway, New York. This was the company's name and address
from 1851-1853. The canvas verifiably and, in all likelihood the painting, date from the 1851-53 period—certainly no earlier, and a later use is unlikely.
Importantly, the 1851-53 dates for the Goupil address
coordinate with Bingham's presence in New York City and with his artist-dealer
affiliation during this same period with the art firm of Goupil & Co.
In fact, documents show that Goupil commissioned two paintings and
three prints from Bingham during this time. In 1851, Bingham received
commissions from Goupil & Co to paint two subjects of “Western
character” that could also be published as lithographs for a
popular market; those pictures were: In a Quandary (1851)
and Canvassing for a Vote (1851-52). At the same time, Goupil
also contracted with Bingham to publish a popular lithograph of his Emigration
of Daniel Boone, a painting which he had completed in 1851
for the American Art Union (who then unaccountably rejected it) right
before his affiliation with Goupil.
same period, after a lithograph was made of the rejected Daniel
Boone, Bingham then revised the painting, opening up the landscape
into a more spacious middle ground, a revision also related to expansive middle ground of Horse
Thief. As Horse Thief's composition does not lend itself to translation as a popular print, it is unlikely that Goupil commissioned it, but far more likely that it was created as an independent work by Bingham as a pendant link to Daniel Boone and, as described above, in response to Asher Durand's Gog's Judgment Upon Gog (1851-52)
Finally, the date & place-specific
Goupil stencil on Horse Thief supports the following sequence of events: 1. A reliable
assurance for the creation of Horse Thief during the1851-53 period in New York City. 2. Bingham's period of a working affiliation with Goupil in New York making two new paintings and three prints. 3. Bingham's period in New York when he reworked Daniel Boone. 4. Bingham's period of a likely encounter with Durand's God's Judgment and by extension to Bingham's evident response to God's Judgment with Horse Thief which can be linked as a pendant to Daniel Boone.
An Interpretive Description
of Horse Thief
The small-scale narrative scene
set within the landscape requires the observer to closely focus upon
the unfolding human drama in order to understand the action taking
Into a panoramic and grandiose landscape comprised
of dark storm clouds, monumental rock towers, and distant mountains--suggestive
of a Western locale—ride three horsemen with a prisoner on foot.
The Western-style horsemen are bearded and dressed in
traditional wide-brimmed hats that sport jaunty blue and white Indian-like feathers.
Two of them are carrying rifles. They are wearing the red and blue
flannel garb commonly worn in the Western frontier of 19th century
America. They could be vigilantes, deputies from a frontier town, or militia.
The prisoner—hands bound behind him, hatless,
dressed like the horsemen—walks beside them, a slow progress
that ominously suggests they may not go much farther with him. The
prisoner’s “crime” is a mystery. Whether he is guilty
or innocent, and whatever he is accused of, he is nevertheless a prisoner
whose guilt is presumed.
This wounded and pitiable man compellingly suggests
a Christ-like figure, an idea supported by an assortment of symbolic
details: a short distance behind him, a large tombstone-like monolith
suggests Christ’s burial vault; a few steps in front of him,
a large claw-like piece of deadwood suggests Christ’s crown of
thorns; the prisoner’s bloody forehead is further suggestive
of Christ’s wounds.
The party is traveling on a trail through a rocky
pass, close by a small pond and a grove of trees. The weather is ominous.
A solitary highlighted branch juts out of a dark tree in the grove,
suggesting a possible hanging tree. Just below the highlighted branch,
the still pond suggests a reflective moment amidst the gathering storm.
The lead horse has stopped near the pond as sunlight
breaks through the clouds. A decisive moment may be at hand.
Leaning forward in his saddle, the leader ponders
what lies ahead. The men probably have some distance to travel
before reaching “civilization”, and a jail for
the prisoner. The horsemen are facing a fierce wind. A hat
brim bends back, the riders’ scarves flutter behind
them, small trees sway violently. Swift frontier justice
might proceed with the prisoner; his fate seems precarious.
The threatening tempest leaves little doubt of the coming
thunder, lightning, and rain. The observer wonders: Are they
going to hang him?
Above the lead rider and caught in the passing light,
an imposing figurative stone rises hauntingly from a mound of earth,
as if a spiritual presence is watching and suggesting a judgment of
the events taking place. The shrouded figure of this “Judgment
Stone” appears to be holding the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments—as
commonly held by Moses in well-known engraved depictions. The specter
of law and order hovers above them. Two commandments and a moral possibly
come to an observer’s mind; in considering the prisoner “Thou
Shalt Not Steal”; in considering the horsemen “Thou Shalt
Not Kill”; and fittingly, as the two ideas come together, “Two
wrongs don’t make a right”.
Two apparitions have materialized in the storm filled sky: a sweeping evocation
in the gathered dark clouds of the slain Beast of the Apocalypse; and, just above the hidden head of the Beast, two celestial eyes materialize. The very clouds conjure a divine edict and answer the
call for moral vigilance in America’s future.
Within the narrative of this painting the outcome
remains a question, but the artist is clearly encouraging the observer
to look closely, think, and finally judge the action. A decision has
to be made. While the future remains a question, answered only in the
observer’s mind, one can see, surely with relief, that the prisoner
is still alive and does not yet have a noose around his neck, that the Ten Commandments and the United States Constitution may prevail, and that the evil Beast has been slain. There
is hope that justice will prevail, hope that the prisoner will live
to offer a defense for his accused crime.
The bigger questions implicit in this allegory rise
up: What might prevail on America’s Western frontier:
lynch law or trial by jury? Vigilante “justice” or
the Judeo-Christian code of law? Anarchy or Civilization? What
will become of American Democracy as the United States expands westward?
Nature, in all its divinity,
hosts and is even sensitive to the unfolding events, but human affairs
hold the spotlight at center stage. At the heart of this picture
lies the political and human struggle for justice and ultimately
for civilization: the struggle to uphold moral and Constitutional law in the young nation’s untamed and westward
Five Comparative Drawings: Related
Sources for Horse Thief
1. Bingham drawing:
Studies (detail here noted
as “man on a horse”)
Comparative Horse Thief subject
No previous study, by Bloch or others, has considered the application
of the “man on a horse” drawing to a painting by Bingham.
This rare drawing of a man on a horse, modeled unusually small in
scale, suggests clear similarities to the three diminutive horsemen
Thief, and it should be noted to the diminutive horsemen in the first version of The Emigration of Daniel Boone, and more succinctly in the second and final version. The undated drawing is wedged into a sheet with two other
figure studies both of which are unrelated to our considered drawing
and to each other.
The drawing depicts a bearded man wearing common clothing and a wide-brimmed
hat. He is riding a horse that wears a breast-collar (a device used
to keep the saddle from slipping backwards), an unusual horse-detail
but one that is found in other Bingham’s paintings: on both
featured horses in Martial Law; and on two horses in the
Nathaniel Lyon portraits. No specific military relationship
is necessarily suggested by its use.
All of the noted details from this “model” drawing are
specifically repeated in all of the three riders and in two of the
three horses in Horse Thief. While none of Horse Thief’s painted
horsemen copy the drawing exactly, they can be seen as derivative variations
of it: varying subtly in their poses and adding subjective details
like hat-feathers (see note below), rifles, and scarves.
Further relational evidence is made clear from Bloch’s study
of Bingham’s drawing-to-painting process, which states: “…figures
are drawn to the same scale as their painted counterparts, with allowance
made for those slight differences that occurred when the artist adjusted
a particular element of a figure to fit the requirements of an evolving
composition. The measurements I have taken of a number of figures
in drawings and their counterparts in related paintings vary in height
from 1/8 inch to 1½ inches.” (Bloch/4/p.12). True to
equation, the size of Bingham’s drawing is 2 ¾ inches
in height; its main painted counterpart, the lead horseman in Horse
Thief, is a closely comparable 2 ¼ inches, with the other
two horsemen also comparable to Bloch’s noted variation. Clearly,
the horsemen depicted in Horse Thief support the most closely
related and only known use of this drawing in a painting by Bingham.
(*Note: A further consideration of Martial Law also reveals
a strong figurative similarity between the gray horse in Horse
Thief and its much larger twin in Martial Law; and
a rare but notable detail of hat-feathers is also repeated in both
paintings, although the feathers appear to be historically appropriate in Martial Law and only stylish in Horse Thief.)
2. & 3. Bingham drawings:
Bloch/4/p.141/63-B-Verso: Studies of Various Figures/
here noted as “small
Bloch/4/p.262/122-B-Verso: Preliminary study of Christ for Christ
Appearing to His Mother (here noted as “large Christ study”)
Comparative Horse Thief subject: “the prisoner”
No previous study by Bloch or others has connected either of these
two drawings to a painting by Bingham. The suggested title for the large Christ
study only refers to its Titian-related imagery. The small Christ
study, noted by Bloch as “a small draped figure”, was
not yet connected by him to the larger Christ study; however, a close
analysis leaves little doubt of the relationship between the large
and small studies.
It is stylistically evident that Bingham’s two similar sketches,
a large and a small Christ study, bear figurative and subjective
relationships to the diminutive Christ-like prisoner in Horse
varied figuration of Christ in both drawings, perhaps more ambiguous
in the larger sketch, suggests the plausible adjustment into a bound
captive taking a step, as in Horse Thief.
The one-inch variation in height between the small study of Christ
and the prisoner in Horse Thief compares favorably to Bloch’s
previously stated formula defining Bingham’s practice. Like
the diminutive “man on a horse” considered above, the
diminutive Christ study is for Bingham a characteristic choice of
yet another small-scale drawing appropriately directed toward Horse
The prisoner’s Christ-like persona offers an appropriate image
for the moralistic narrative of Horse Thief. This idea also
supports the related inclusion in the picture of additional Judeo-Christian
iconography, that of the Mosaic “judgment stone”. The
two images incorporate a mixed Old and New Testament reference that
Bloch and others have pointed out for the clearly related The Emigration
of Daniel Boone, the suggested pendant to Horse Thief. As the evidence suggests, the Christ-analogous
prisoner depicted in Horse Thief suggests the only plausible
use of the small model drawing of Christ in a painting by Bingham.
4. Bingham drawing:
Bloch/4/p.182/79. Fisherman waiting for a bite
Comparative Horse Thief subject: “rock tower
A grouping of large rocks serves as the landscape ground upon which
a fisherman reclines in the drawing Fisherman Waiting for a Bite.
The drawing undoubtedly had its first use as a model for the rocks in the foreground of Fishing in the Mississippi (1851)—a painting which
shares with Horse Thief a circa date and a 29 x 36 inches
canvas size. Additionally, the varied rocks
in the drawing also accurately replicate both the relative size and
relative shape of various rock tower sections and other large rock
features in Horse Thief, suggesting clearly Bingham’s
common modeling practice and a second use of the drawing.
It is extremely rare for Bingham to dedicate half of a drawing to the delineation
of a landscape feature or to any landscape; in this case, a studied but loosely constructed
conglomerate of geometrically-shaped rocks. Judging from Bingham’s
drawing practice, this conspicuous architectonic detail suggests an additional
logical use as a model for rock section building-blocks in Horse Thief and in other Bingham landscapes as building-blocks or as
variously constructed rock sections. While a first use of
this drawing in Fishing in the Mississippi has been determined,
an additional application of the landscape-half of the drawing can
be clearly seen as the model for the building-block sections used
in the construction of the rock towers in Horse Thief.
5. Bingham drawing:
Bloch/4/ 52-A Study of a Greatcoat
Comparative Horse Thief subject: “Judgment Stone”
Bingham’s only known drawing of pure drapery, Study of a
Greatcoat, suggests itself as the source of the figurative “Judgment
Stone” in Horse Thief. The drawing no doubt began as
an idea for a minor prop—a coat to hang on the coat-rack background
of the 1849 painting Country Politician. Bingham clearly
evolved and recycled the drawing for its placement into Horse Thief, into
a yet more dramatic and cogent feature: a so-called “Judgment
Stone”, a “draped” figurative stone, suggestive (as
Ron Tyler first pointed out) of a Moses-like statue holding the stone
tablets of the Ten Commandments (or Mosaic Law ). This cleverly cloaked
symbol of Judeo-Christian morality and law is supported subjectively
by the moralistic narrative into which it has been placed and by Bingham’s
creative practice of constructing his paintings through arrangements
of his model drawings. The larger drawing’s use presents a reasonable
exception to Block’s drawing-to-painting size ratio. Stylistically,
the configuration of the hanging coat in the drawing, with its rock-like
fissures and its surface shadowplay, suggests a remarkable and close
to exact model for the Judgment Stone. In one cogent detail, the draped
jutting knob which holds the hanging coat clearly finds its transference
in the unusual “head” rising on the “shoulders” of
the stone. Study of a Greatcoat, Bingham’s most evocative
drawing, found scant realization of its richly ambiguous qualities
in the painting Country Politician, where it appears all
but invisible as a vague and flat dark shape in a dark background,
a detail hardly requiring a study drawing. In Horse Thief’s
iconic Judgment Stone, Bingham made a brilliant reprisal of
this mysterious abstract shape.
A Pictorial and Compositional Source for Horse
(and also for Moonlight Scene: Castle on the Rhine)
Francis Nicholson (1753-1844), *Landscape Composition. Lithograph.
In: F. Nicholson, The Practice of Drawing and Painting Landscapes
from Nature… ,1823. [*illustrated in: Bloch/2/Plate 105].
Nicholson’s Landscape Composition depicts two identical
views of a castle in a landscape by a river, two side by side illustrations
that show variations of light and shade within a composition.
The one page from Nicholson that Bloch chose to illustrate as an example
of Bingham’s probable use of this instruction book manual was
a lithograph titled Landscape Composition I-11. The print
reflects an undoubted pictorial and compositional source for Horse
Thief and clearly suggests its use by Bingham. As a second and
conclusive proof, there is an additional correlation of the print’s later
use in the published Bingham, Moonlight Scene: Castle on the Rhine.
Bingham’s use of an instructional print source for Horse
Thief illustrates his masterful reinvention of Nicholson’s
mundane instruction book model; examples follow:
*The gradually ascending three castle towers in the
Nicholson print transform into the architecturally similar ascending
three rock towers in Horse Thief.
*A square block of stone at lower right foreground
in the print, suggests the geometrically similar building blocks of
the rock towers in Horse Thief.
*A window by the highest castle tower in the print
reappears as a window-like niche in the highest rock tower in Horse
*A dense grove of trees at right foreground under
the castle towers in the print is transposed to the same position under
the rock towers in Horse Thief.
*In front of the grove of trees and the castle towers
in the print, the tranquil river widens into a pool-like area of water;
as a pool of water, it is carried over into the same position by the
trees and rock towers in Horse Thief.
*A large tree at left foreground in the print reappears
in the same position in Horse Thief.
*A distant mountain behind a flat-line bridge in the
left-center of the print transfers to the same position in Horse
Thief as virtually the same mountain behind a flat-line expanse
*In the print, the bridge at lower left spans the
river and connects both left and right sections of the composition;
in Horse Thief, the bridge has transformed into a line of
trees similarly “bridging” both sides of the composition.
*In the print at lower left, the figure of the bargeman
in the foreground rises into the distant bridge in the background;
in Horse Thief at lower left, the figurative stone in the
foreground rises into the distant line of trees in the background.
*The orchestrated light and shade shown in the two views of the
print synthesizes consciously into the orchestrated use of light and
shade in Horse Thief.
*The mode and manner of transportation is brilliantly
transformed: the barge (and bargeman) paused along the right-curving
river in the foreground of the print becomes in Horse Thief the
exactly positioned horses (and horsemen), also paused, along the right-curving
trail that, as in the print, moves off to the right and abruptly ends
at the edge of the picture frame.
*In a stunning transformation, the lone
silhouetted figure of a bargeman standing on a rise of riverbank
to the left of the pooled water, becomes in Horse Thief the
similarly positioned, figuratively comparative, and size-comparative “judgment
stone”, which in the painting rises in a pose suggestive
of Moses holding the Ten Commandments.
Addendum: The additional
relationship of the Nicholson print to Moonlight Scene:
Castle on the Rhine
first use of Nicholson’s print Landscape
Composition I-11 in Horse
Thief (1852), Bingham’s additional use of the print
can also be found in his later Moonlight Scene: Castle on the
Rhine (1857/59). Both Nicholson print and Moonlight Scene are
similarly composed, and each contain castle tower features which
compare with Horse Thief’s similar rock towers.
Bingham’s characteristic reworking from print-to-painting in Moonlight
Scene manifests here, as in Horse Thief, as illustrative
of the artist’s distinctive transformative vision. Comparative examples of print to painting transformations are quite obvious and easily perceived.
Bloch notes that the castle depicted in Moonlight Scene is
traditionally said to be Drachenfeldt Castle (Bloch/1/p.212). However,
an exhaustive search shows no current or historical record of this
castle. As the castle and much else in Moonlight Scene has
undoubtedly evolved from the generalized features of the Nicholson
print, it can be assumed that the castle in the painting is as fanciful
as the castle in the print. This effectively releases Moonlight
Scene from any relationship to an actual setting and thus assigns
to the painting its essential derivation from the Nicholson print.
Bingham’s use of Nicholson’s print as a pictorial
and compositional source forMoonlight Scene clearly links
for the first time an established Bingham painting to its specific
print source, and thus supports Bloch’s hypothesis.
Comparative Landscape Paintings
As depicted in Horse Thief the dramatic atmospherics, the panoramic
landscape, the allegorical details, and the small-scale narrative, all clearly suggest the
landscape paintings of Thomas Cole. Horse Thief is clearly recognizable as
a Cole-derived composition and arguably Bingham’s finest
homage to the Hudson River School master, who died in 1848.
Cole was an influence probably as early as 1838, Bloch estimates;
however, Bingham’s mannered and individualistic style—characterized,
as Bloch repeatedly notes, by “precise and careful
drawing and an organizational clarity”—is distinctly
his own. This distinction of style is strongly evident in Horse
In Bloch’s essay “Landscape Painting” (Bloch/2/pp.171-184),
he considers Bingham’s 49 known landscapes, noting
that less than half of his recorded landscapes have been
located. This suggests that some 50 landscapes are possibly
still extant and unidentified. Bloch continues: “Despite
the fact that the complete story of Bingham’s work
as a landscapist is yet to be told—and this cannot
be accomplished until more of the pictorial evidence is available—we
can still form a fairly conclusive estimate of his place
in the field… He tried his hand at everything…His
excursion into the field covered the entire gamut of style
in American landscape…For a brief span in the early
1850s, his work took on the more dramatic direction of Thomas
Cole…as in The Storm [1852-53], in an atmosphere
richly charged with drama…largely affected by the
thunderous sky, movemented foliage, and the greatly accented
use of lights and darks…”. Bloch could well
have been describing the setting of Horse Thief, which,
like the concurrent The Storm, exhibits
a comparable originality of landscape for Bingham.
Bloch, in his examination of Bingham’s landscape style, further
“His [Bingham’s] approach to landscape, like his approach to figure
subjects, evidently involved a precise organization and a considered preparation…All
of Bingham’s known landscapes are as consciously composed as his better
known genre subjects. Like many other landscape painters of his time, he apparently
followed the advice of the instruction-book masters, using prescribed formulas
for his compositions…” (see above Bingam's use of the Nicholson print) .
Bloch continues: “…the spectator is led gradually into
the distance through an opening in the right foreground which has been
built up, in a stage-like fashion, by rocks and enframing trees. In
the background, distant hills are visible…The play of darks
against lights in a carefully organized pattern of receding planes
is effectively demonstrated…”. Again, this accurately
describes the landscape of Horse Thief. As many scholars have
recognized in Bingham’s works, and as Matthew Baigell has concisely
stated of Bingham (Baigell, Dictionary of American Art, p.36): “No
19th century American artist created a more conscious geometrical
structure of forms.”
In this organizational regard, Horse Thief’s signature-Bingham
approach can undoubtedly be seen comparatively in its close to exact
compositional relationship to nine out of ten of the artist’s
1850s landscape paintings:
- Mountain Landscape with Fisherman ( Ca.1850,
Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis)
- Mountain Landscape with Deer ( Ca. 1850, Museum of Western
- The Emigration of Daniel Boone ( 1851, Washington University)*
- The Storm ( ca.1852-53, Wadsworth Atheneum)
- Landscape with Waterwheel and Boy Fishing ( 1853, Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston)
- Deer in Stormy Landscape ( ca.1852-53, Anschutz Collection,
- View of a Lake in the Mountains ( after 1853, L.A. County
Museum of Art)
- Landscape with an Indian Encampment ( after 1853, Gilcrease
- Moonlight Scene: Castle on the Rhine ( 1857-59, Private
Comparative Paintings: Natural History Details
Virtually all of the natural history details depicted
in Bingham’s landscape, narrative, and genre paintings of the
1850s, compare accurately—in their selection, careful drawing,
and distinctive palette—with similar details in Horse Thief.
[See list of paintings above and other examples from
Comparative natural history details include:
- Large rock features
- Rock lichen
- Small stones
- Trees, including: groves of trees, single
trees, leaves of trees, tree branches (Note: A signature motif
of a highlighted branch consistently emerges out of a darker
background of trees in Bingham’s paintings.)
- Grass and
- Sky and cloud forms
- Bodies of water and water surface (Note:
A body of water of some kind appears as a signature motif in
virtually all of Bingham’s paintings with landscape features.
Thief, the pond, in spite of the dry and rocky
nature of the terrain, suggests a characteristic choice).
- Barren ground.
Comparative Paintings: Diminutive Figures
Frequently appearing in a wide range
of Bingham’s paintings from 1845 to 1877, precise
and carefully drawn diminutive human and animal figures
(mostly horses) relate stylistically to those figures found
in Horse Thief.
Those paintings notably include:
- Cottage Scenery
- Landscape: Rural Scenery
- Mountain Landscape with Fisherman
- The Emigration of Daniel Boone
(see lithograph by Regnier of first version, showing similar
mounted figures with rifles)
- Landscape with Waterwheel and Boy Fishing
- View of a Lake in the Mountains
- Landscape with an Indian Encampment
- Moonlight Scene: Castle on the Rhine
- Washington Crossing the Delaware
- View of Pikes Peak
- Forest Hill: The Nelson Homestead (see
Comparative Paintings: Horse Thief‘s pendant relationship toThe Emigration of Daniel Boone and
its continuing relationship to the “Election Series”
The surprising pendant relationship of The Emigration
of Daniel Boone to Horse Thief suggests the further
development of Bingham’s characteristic interest in the distinct
point-counterpoint relationships of a number of paintings in his
body of work (see Horse Thief's reactive and concurrent relationship to Durand's God's Judgment discussed above.)
Henry Adams first successfully directed this idea at Fur
Traders Descending the Missouri and his suggested pendant The
Concealed Enemy. As Adams explained: in Fur Traders, essentially
a new age of commerce began on the Western frontier; in The Concealed
Enemy, the "uncivilized" Indian threatened disorder in the larger sense
to America’s system of free enterprise. Our comparison suggests
a similar but updated point-counterpoint relationship: in Daniel
Boone, essentially following the trail blazed by the early commerce
of fur traders and others, a new age of colonization began on the
Western frontier. In Horse Thief, in the wake of the disruptive
Indian, outlaws and vigilantes now threaten disorder to America’s
system of justice and in the larger sense to colonization of the
West. Clearly, The Concealed Enemy is to Fur Traders what Horse
Thief is to Daniel Boone. As it is suggested in these
four paintings, Bingham perceived the young American civilization
moving forward into an evolving age of commerce and colonization
but not without the accompanying perils of threatened barbarism and
In addition to the clear point-counterpoint relationship, Daniel
Boone and Horse Thief share distinct similarities. Both
narrative subjects are allegorical with moral overtones and are frontier
specific. Both share a dramatic landscape quality, a similar palette,
and other stylistic affinities such as spatial organization, natural
history details and diminutive figuration. Both are essentially
concurrent works from New York City in the 1851-53 period of Bingham’s
affiliation with Goupil and Company . Both Horse Thief, as
earlier described, and Daniel Boone, allude symbolically to
Christ and Moses, mixing Judeo-Christian references. The use of Biblical
analogy in Bingham’s work was first suggested by Bloch in relation
to Daniel Boone. In that painting, Bingham visually casts
Daniel Boone and his wife as the Holy Family on their Flight into Egypt to save the life of Infant Jesus and hence the future of Christianity.
Brilliantly extending the same image to include the larger scene, Bingham
creates another visual metaphor of Daniel Boone as the frontier Moses
leading American pioneers, a new chosen people, on their Exodus through
the wilderness toward the Promised Land of the West.
subject, when considered among Bingham’s other politically and socially
conscious paintings of this circa 1850-55 period, can also be seen
as an effective counterpoint to any one of his “Election-series” paintings.
In the Election-series, Bingham presents the lively spectacle of
the American electorate engaged in its singular decision-making process
within the American political and legal system: the spectacle wherein the people
cast their votes and the majority rules; where the nation, and hence
our democratic civilization, is given direction. In Horse Thief,
Bingham also presents a decision-making narrative closely related
to the Election-series but he presents it as questions in sharp counterpoint:
Will the same American political system that honors the electoral
process grant a man the right to unilaterally act as judge and jury?
On the frontier fringe of civilization where lawlessness is a temptation,
will we choose to honor or ignore the traditional Judeo-Christian
moral code and the Constitution upon which our nation is founded? Bingham doesn’t
preach; his message is conservative and democratic: In a free nation,
guided by law and freedom of choice, justice will prevail.
consideration of the moral allegory presented in Horse Thief as
a thoughtful counterpoint, The Emigration of Daniel Boone, and the Election Series as well, clearly gain in depth
as does Bingham’s entire cycle of frontier life.
The approximately 29 x 36 inches canvas size of Horse Thief is consistent
with the American Art-Union’s practice, Bingham’s “dealer” for
six years, and with Bingham’s known use in nine paintings from
1845-54: in 1845--(Concealed Enemy, Fur Traders Descending
the Missouri, Cottage Scenery, Landscape: Rural Scenery); in 1846-47--(Lighter
Relieving a Steamboat Aground); in 1849--(Landscape with Cattle
#3 and Feeding Time); in 1851--(Fishing on the Mississippi);
in 1854--(Woodboatmen on a River-2).
oil on canvas medium is consistent with Bingham’s usual practice.
Comparative Lack of Signature and Date
The lack of signature and date is typical,
being a common characteristic in Bingham’s paintings; only roughly 5% of his paintings are signed.
Notably, among the unsigned works are included many of his masterpieces: Fur Traders Descending
the Missouri (1845), The Wood-Boat (1850), Mountain Landscape with
Fisherman (1850), The Emigration of Daniel Boone (1851-52), The County
Election (1852), The Storm (1852-53), The Verdict of the People (1854-55),
Washington Crossing the Delaware (1856-71), Moonlight Scene: Castle
on the Rhine (1857-59). Very few of his portraits are signed as well. Bingham could have taken this fashion
from the Old Masters of the 16th-18th centuries, who rarely if ever
signed. Their compositional and drawing practices guided him throughout
Early Author and Subject Consideration of Horse Thief
Early consideration of authorship was given to Bingham’s
contemporary and fellow Goupil & Co. artist, William Tylee Ranney
and to Ranney’s painting, The Tory Escort (1857), which
was earlier thought of as a possible subject for Horse Thief. The
Tory Escort, as equivalent subject to Horse Thief, is
no longer given support. The Ranney Catalogue Raisonne Committee and
our further research has ruled out Ranney authorship.
Early consideration of the subject as “The Capture of Major Andre”, notably the subject of a painting by Asher B. Durand, was
investigated and is no longer given support.
Early consideration of authorship was given to John Mix Stanley. This
idea was later ruled out by the John Mix Stanley Catalogue Raisonne
Committee and our further research concurs.
Early imagined titles included: "The Captive", "The Prisoner", "The Spy", “The Vigilantes”, “Brought to Justice”, “The Fateful Hour”; etc. These and other subject-related titles did not coordinate with known, exhibited, or missing works listed in a wide range of circa 1850-60 exhibitions.
Other artists given early consideration but rejected as author included: Albert Bierstadt, Frederick E. Church, Asher Brown Durand, Charles Deas, Thomas Doughty, William Stanley Haseltine, Joshua Shaw, and Charles Wimar. Numerous other American and European artists active 1850-1860 were also considered and rejected.
In the end, no stylistic comparisons and no documentary evidence suggested any other artist but Bingham as a possibility for authorship.
Dusseldorf School Consideration and Influence
Artists of the Dusseldorf School—as exhibited by the very popular Dusseldorf Gallery in New York City (circa 1849-60), located a fewblocks from Goupil at 548 Broadway and undoubtedly a gallery known to Bingham—were given early and later consideration as possible authors and were subsequently rejected. No stylistic comparisons could be supported to leading artists of the Dusseldorf school including: Lessing, Gude, Hildebrandt, Kohler, Achenbach, and many others.
Bingham's acquaintance with this school likely began somewhat casually in New York and continued during his sojourn of twenty-eight months during 1857-1859 in the Dusseldorf artists colony. During this time Bingham concentrated on painting two large portraits of Washington and Jefferson commissioned by the State of Missouri, and a few other paintings, including The Jolly Flatboatmen and Moonlight Scene: Castle on the Rhine. Earlier serious consideration of Horse Thief as a possible work from this period has been rejected based on evidence previously noted, not least of which is provided by the Goupil stencil of 1851-53 and the pendant relationship of Daniel Boone.
As the gathered stylistic and documentary evidence conclusively supports, George Caleb Bingham’s hand and his mind have come together with vigor and originality in Horse Thief, an allegorical landscape of major importance within Bingham’s body of work. Fitting within the artist’s 1851-1853 period of creative activity, but most likely made in 1852, Horse Thief finds secure placement among Bingham’s cycle of paintings dealing with America’s Western frontier.
Bloch/1 E. Maurice
Bloch, The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham:
A Catalogue Raisonne. University of Missouri Press, 1986.
Bloch/2 --George Caleb
Bingham: The Evolution of an Artist
Bloch/3 --George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonne
(Bloch 2& 3 are companion volumes). University of California
Bloch/4 –The Drawings
of George Caleb Bingham With a Catalogue Raisonne. University
of Missouri Press, 1975.
Fred R. Kline, Editor.The George Caleb Bingham Catalogue Raisonne Supplement of Paintings and Drawings. CRS Record # 1: Horse Thief. Illustration #1 & Research Paper. Published online at www.GeorgeCalebBingham.org. Ongoing with revisions from 2006-2012, Santa Fe, NM.
Fred R. Kline. "George Caleb Bingham, Artist of Missouri and the American Frontier". Published online at www.GeorgeCalebBingham.org. Ongoing with revisions from 2006- 2012, Santa Fe, NM
Paul Nagel. George
Caleb Bingham, Missouri 's Famed Painter and Forgotten Politician ("Horse
Thief" illustrated in color and noted as a new discovery.)
University of Missouri Press, April 2005.
Michael Edward Shapiro. George Caleb Bingham. Harry N. Abrams,
Nancy Rash. The Paintings and Politics of George Caleb Bingham. Yale
University Press, New Haven, 1991.
George Caleb Bingham , Exhibition
Catalogue with essays by Paul C. Nagel, Barbara Groseclose,
Elizabeth Johns, Michael Edward Shapiro, and John Wilmerding.
Saint Louis Art Museum. Abrams, New York, 1990.
Ron Tyler. “George Caleb Bingham, The Native
Artist”. American Frontier Life: Early Western Paintings
and Prints. Abbeville, New York, 1987.
Henry Adams. “A New Interpretation of Bingham’s Fur
Traders Descending the Missouri”. Art Bulletin 65, December
Albert Christ-Janer. George Caleb Bingham, Frontier
Painter of Missouri. Abrams, New York, 1975.
Barbara Novak. “George Caleb Bingham, Missouri
Classicism”. American Painting of the Nineteenth Century.
Prager, New York, 1969.
John Francis McDermott. George Caleb Bingham,
River Portraitist. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1959 [see reference to Horse Thief]
Fern Helen Rusk. George Caleb Bingham, the Missouri Artist, The Hugh Stevens Company, Jefferson City, 1917. [see p.126, reference to Horse Thief]
May Simonds. "Missouri History as Illustrated by George C. Bingham". Missouri Historical Review, Vol.1-pp.181-190, April 1907.
--"A Pioneer Painter". American Illustrated Methodist Magazine, Vol. VIII, October 1902 [see pp.71-78, reference to Horse Thief]