George Caleb Bingham - Fur Traders Descending the MissouriOil on canvas, ca. 1845, 73,5 x 93 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

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Description and interpretation of the famous painting "Fur Traders Descending the Missouri" by George Caleb Bingham

George Caleb Bingham - Fur Traders Descending the Missouri​

What an unusual motif: Two people cruising on a boat over the calm waters of Missouri. The older rower does not seem to greet the viewer as friendly as the young man in the middle. He supported his head in his hand and smiles tiredly at us. It's already evening and maybe both of them have had a hard working day. In the middle, hidden under the cloth, is the fur ball. Behind it, well thought-out in terms of composition, the contours of an island blend with the pink sky.

The boat covers almost the entire width of the picture. As a counterweight to the older man, the dark outline of an animal appears at the front end of the boat. This is also clearly reflected in the water. A closer look reveals that it cannot be a cat - usually the animal is identified as a young bear or fox.

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

However, the title of the painting was changed. Originally he told us that there was a "French trader with his half-breed son". This alluded to the current topic of ethnic mixtures during Bingham's lifetime. After the painting was sold to the American Art Union, it received this, more neutral, title.

© the artinspector / alexandra tuschka