french trader, half breed son

Bingham, Fur Traders on Missouri River, 1845

This painting “Fur Traders on the Missouri river” by George Bingham has always been one of my favorites. I remember all too well on seeing it at the Met many years ago, and it’s not lost a shred of enchantment after all these years. I really love the the hazy luminous background as contrasted with the sharp focus of the characters in the boat, which is in turn contrasted by the characters themselves – the staid cranky looking rower in the back with the amusing and quizzical (half breed son) character mid ship ratcheted up yet again with the pure black and white of the bear cub tied on the bow.  As things happen in this arcane world, an old high school friend  who has lived in Canada since she graduated from college, visited a couple of months ago and her husband, Michael Barnholden left me a copy of his recent book Gabriel Dumont Speaks which looks to breath a living voice into French/ Indian rebel leader of the Metis people in Canada. The Metis people are the result of early French and Native intermarrying that led to what is now considered a legitimate Canadian native ethnic group – that was at the time in open rebellion (1885) against the Canadian government. Dumont was the military leader that organized the regional (including affiliated tribes in N America) resistance  championing the native rights of the Metis people in Canada.

Maybe it’s my own distant French heritage, or my fascination with native culture, but I had no idea that there was an acknowledged ethnic group in Canada that at one time took serious military, political, and popular action in defense of an allied native culture.

And in the same spirit of connection, the Bingham painting reminds me in another personal connection to the artwork of old college roommate April Gornik and how her paintings that recall the best of Bingham type luminoust  paintings, along with his 19th century contemporaries Fredrick Church and Albert  Bierstadt.

But before I leave with one of Aprils paintings, the original title of the Bingham painting was “French Trader, Half Breed Son”. The original title was changed by the American Art Union in an early and unsung, fit of political correctness.


April Gornik, French Waterway, 1997, 72″ x 94″ oil on canvas

One Response to “french trader, half breed son”

  1. b real Says:

    thanks for the heads up on the book!

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