One of the foremost American genre painters of the 19th century,
Bingham was the first major American artist to be based west of the Mississippi River. His family moved from Virginia - where Bingham was born - to the Missouri Territory in 1819, several years before it became a state. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, Missouri remained at the edge of the American frontier, a departure point for explorers, adventurers, and pioneers heading west. Largely self-taught, Bingham relied on drawing manuals rather than formal academic study for instruction. He began his career as an itinerant portrait painter, traveling to counties along the Missouri River portraying middle-class citizens.
Following this early period, Bingham celebrated the critically important role played by the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in the advancement of the United States by presenting them in his landscape and genre paintings as major arteries of transportation and agents of cultural and economic change. He also identified and codified a wide variety of Western character types—boatman, card player, dockhand, fiddler, fur trader, raftman, and weary traveler, among others—and brought them to national attention. Through his paintings, he promoted romantic evocations of the West to a primarily urban, eastern audience. (Text: Metropolitan Museum of Art)