Exhibitions/ Navigating the West

Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River

At The Met Fifth Avenue
June 17 / 2015–September 20 / 2015
Exhibitions are free with Museum admission.

Exhibition Overview

One of the foremost American genre painters of the nineteenth century, George Caleb Bingham is best known for his compelling depictions of frontier life along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. This exhibition brings together for the first time sixteen of Bingham's iconic river paintings, with such highlights as The Jolly Flatboatmen (1846; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), exploring them as an extraordinary artistic series that chronicles the process of civilizing the nation by transforming the western wilderness. As an entrepreneurial effort, Bingham's series harnessed the fluid social worlds of the inland rivers and addressed the expectations of regional and national audiences during the 1840s and 1850s.

Over forty of Bingham's masterful preparatory drawings are included in the exhibition, enabling audiences to witness firsthand the artist's in-depth study and preparation for his paintings. The newly discovered underdrawings for Bingham's celebrated masterpiece Fur Traders Descending the Missouri (1845) are a special feature. The project includes an innovative technical study comparing findings from state-of-the-art infrared analysis of the paintings with in-depth studies of the figural preparatory drawings, revealing how Bingham's meticulous creative methods resulted in compositions and characters that told carefully crafted stories on canvas.

This dynamic exhibition reveals not only how the Mississippi and Missouri rivers advanced the integration of the West into a national narrative, but how Bingham's paintings claim a place for western character and identity in shaping the United States.


"Riveting."—New York Times


The exhibition is made possible by The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation.

Additional support is provided by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

It was organized by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, and the Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, Missouri. It is supported in part by generous grants from the Henry Luce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.


Exhibition Objects




George Caleb Bingham (American, 1811–1879). Fur Traders Descending the Missouri (detail), 1845. Oil on canvas; 29 x 36 1/2 in. (73.7 x 92.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Morris K. Jesup Fund, 1933 (33.61)