In a Quandary or Mississippi Raftmen at Cards (1851)
George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879)
oil on canvas, 17 1/2 x 21 in.
Born in Virginia, Bingham moved when he was still a child with his family to Missouri, where he spent most of his life. Although he painted portraits as well as genre subjects, he was best known for his depictions of the boatmen who plied the Mississippi-Missouri rivers around St. Louis and for his visualization of grass-roots politics.
In a Quandary
is a small version of Raftsmen Playing Cards
(St. Louis Museum) of 1847, and was painted for translation into a lithographic print by Goupil & Co. Although Bingham was conversant with the dangers of life on the frontier, in his views of flatboatmen he generally depicted how they passed their time as they moved slowly down river and emphasized their comraderie. Here, as in many of his paintings, the triangular arrangement of the figures gives a stability to the composition even as the receding lines of the boards on the deck contribute to the sense of movement.