George Caleb Bingham’s Verdict of the People (1854-55) depicts the announcement of the results of a local election. It’s the third in a three-part series devoted to political contests, with the first two (also included in the museum’s collection) showing the campaign and the casting of votes. The painting draws on Bingham’s experience as a Missouri legislator.
US Senator for Missouri Roy Blount selected the painting for display at a celebration organized by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies at the US Capitol.
“Bingham’s electorate is one of inclusiveness,” Blount writes in his announcement of the selection:
Everyone is here – the well-to-do farmers, laborers, merchants, westerners, kids, politicians, immigrants, veterans, women, and African-Americans. They are elated, dejected, confounded, argumentative, jovial, and intensely serious.
Addressed to museum director Brent Benjamin, the petition reads:
“Verdict of the People” depicts a small-town Missouri election, and symbolizes the democratic process in mid-19th century America. We object to the painting’s use as an inaugural backdrop and an implicit endorsement of the Trump presidency and his expressed values of hatred, misogyny, racism and xenophobia. We reject the use of the painting to suggest that Trump’s election was truly the “verdict of the people,” when in fact the majority of votes—by a margin of over three million—were cast for Trump’s opponent. Finally, we consider the painting a representation of our community, and oppose its use as such at the inauguration.
The petition is the work of St. Louis artist Ilene Berman, who’s a studio art fellow at Saint Louis University, and art historian Ivy Cooper, who teaches at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and writes for regional papers including St. Louis’s Riverfront Times.
“I think it is important for the museum to withdraw this loan because a withdrawal will challenge the normalization of this presidency,” Berman told Hyperallergic.
Benjamin responded in a statement to artnet News:
“The museum takes no position on candidates for public office, nor does it support or oppose individuals elected to such offices. It does, however, support the office of the presidency itself. When the bipartisan Joint Congressional Commission on Inaugural Ceremonies requested the loan of a painting for the Inaugural Luncheon, it was an honor for the museum to participate in this long-standing tradition.”
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