By Paul C. Nagel
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Additional resources for George Caleb Bingham: Missouri's Famed Painter and Forgotten Poilitician
She was dumbfounded by the high price of the meals she and George were served. Suddenly in March 1841, George and Elizabeth’s comfortable Washington habits were woefully disrupted by the death of four-year-old Newton, the son in whom George had taken such pride and delight. The stricken father was not much consoled when, a few days later, another son, Horace, was born. George mourned that every sight in Washington now reminded him of the departed Newton, who had been accustomed to trot up to his father’s Capitol studio by himself just to keep him company when the portrait business was slow, as it usually was.
Something beyond family grief prompted George to remain in Arrow Rock during the summer of 1840. That was the year of the presidential election between candidates Martin van Buren and William Henry Harrison, the Whig party nominee. Bingham considered the choice so important that he allowed the campaign to pull him away from the lessons in drawing he had brought from Philadelphia. He even turned a deaf ear to the clamor from those who wished to have their portraits painted. This deepening interest in politics was due largely to the encouragement of George’s friend Rollins, a founder of the Whig party in Missouri.
Henry Bingham apparently was quick to see what a wonderful opportunity Harding’s visit offered for young George. The impromptu, and unlikely, art school proved highly successful. Like almost everything else in George Caleb Bingham’s early years, his association with Chester Harding has been blurred by legend and by the unreliable memory of later generations. One writer even took the word of a Bingham descendant that it was not Harding but the great American artist Gilbert Stuart, famed especially as the painter of George Washington, who came to Franklin to train the child Bingham.