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George Caleb Bingham (American, 1811–1879),
Watching the Cargo by Night , 1854
oil on canvas, 24 x 29 in.; 60.96 x 73.66 cm
Gift of Foxley & Co, 1997.33

Bingham, a largely self-taught artist, lived most of his life in Missouri. His pictures almost always carry political messages. Even his idyllic river scenes, showing ordinary boatmen at work or rest, were a reminder that the rivers — so important to commerce and progress — were fraught with dangers that the government was making little attempt to correct. Here there is deep mist or fog, making the shallow, shifting waters perilous for travel; other pictures emphasize the sandbars and snags that impeded river traffic. 
This painting is from a period in which Bingham experimented with night scenes, beautifully playing the effects of firelight and moonlight against the central figure and the night sky.

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