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BINGHAM, George Caleb (1811-1879) – SARTAIN, John (1808-1897). The County Election. Philadelphia: G. C. Bingham, 1854.

BINGHAM, George Caleb (1811-1879) – SARTAIN, John (1808-1897). The County Election. Philadelphia: G. C. Bingham, 1854.


Single sheet, mounted and framed, (24 x 31 inches). Fine engraved print with original hand color in full.

First edition. Engraved by Sartain after the 1852 painting by Bingham. One of the leading American genre painters of the mid-nineteenth century, George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879) created some of the most memorable views of American small town life. Bingham was fascinated by the democratic process and by the ways in which it permeated everyday existence in communities far removed from the big cities. “The County Election” was part of a six-painting Election Series; the other paintings were “Stump Orator” (1847), “Country Politician” (1849), “Canvassing for a Vote” (1852), “Stump Speaking” (1853), and “The Verdict of the People” (1854-55). “Forgetting perhaps that Bingham had a strong political bias of a militant Whig campaigner for state office, it would seem that recent students of his epic paintings on the American voting process have overlooked the subtle but incisive element of social criticism lodged in his famous work, ‘The County Election.’ Bingham, it seems, had serious misgivings about the introduction of universal manhood suffrage, with its equalitarian impact on American life, and he particularly resented it when in 1846 he felt he had been unfairly deprived of office by the gerrymandering activity of a Missouri political rival. On its surface, ‘The County Election’ appears to celebrate the new political ferment that Americans from Bangor, Maine, to the Western frontier were experiencing at mid-century. However, read more carefully as a document of social history, this canvas suggests that Bingham, like his contemporary, James Fenimore Cooper, saw the stability and integrity of the American milieu staggering under the impact of a too rapidly expanding body politic and the rigors of a laissez-faire economic system” (Westervelt, p. 46).

“Intemperance was also associated with corrupt politics. George Caleb Bingham’s ‘County Election’ of 1852 depicts the customary practice of candidates’ serving free liquor to woo voters before an election…In Bingham’s painting, voters are enjoying their whiskey, with the result that some are too drunk even to stand, all before a banner hanging overhead that intones, ‘The Will of the People, the Supreme Law.’ Such scenes, describing a purchased and likely inebriated electorate, delivered a slap to the actual practice of direct democracy” (Barter, ed., p. 111). Robert F. Westervelt, “The Whig Painter of Missouri,” The American Art Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, Spring 1970. Judith A. Barter, ed., “Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine.”


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