Fur Traders Descending the Missouri is one of George Caleb Bingham’s most famous paintings, owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the painting, a group of fur traders navigates down the Missouri River in a dugout canoe with men and a black bear cub onboard. The painting reflects the reality of fur trappers and traders marrying Native American women during that time. Bingham was known as “the Missouri Artist” and initially a Whig politician.
The painting features horizontal and diagonal lines that fix figures at right angles, creating an illusion of movement as if the canoe is drifting downstream. It also depicts scenic views of towering trees, rolling hills, blue skies, and sparkling waterways – indicating an idyllic landscape. Furthermore, “The Trapper’s Return” is another picture painted by Bingham in 1851 that resembles Fur Traders Descending the Missouri.
Conservation studies at The Metropolitan Museum of Art provide new insights into this painting’s artistry by revealing underlying changes made during execution entirely consistent with original intentions. Overall, this artwork serves as a testament to how people from different cultures converged in the United States’ vast land during colonization while visually capturing America’s westward expansion spirit pre-Civil War era.