Engraver Doney derived this cheerful scene—showing boatmen breaking from their labors on the Missouri River—from a painting by Bingham. The painter employed a stable pyramidal composition appropriated from Renaissance art. Resting parallel to the boat’s stern, the oars form the triangle’s base, while the dancer occupies its apex. This sense of order extends to the stacks of goods that the workers have neatly packed away below deck. By portraying these workers who amuse themselves only after completing their duties, Bingham sought to challenge Eastern Americans’ stereotypes of Westerners as unruly and untrustworthy. The image also reveals the artist’s close ties to the Whig political party: By glorifying rivers as key arteries for Western (and national) commerce, he promoted Whig priorities to maintain and improve the country’s natural infrastructure for commercial and economic growth.
New York’s American Art Union distributed this print to its membership, promoting Bingham’s work for its “striking nationality of character” as part of a campaign to encourage the production and consumption of American art.
men; engravings; prints; dance; boats; water
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