Raised in central Missouri, Bingham found the most enduring subjects of his art in the trappers and boatmen who populated his state’s great rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi. Combining the elements of water, foliage, hazy morning light, river men, and their simple crafts, he created a sequence known as “The River Paintings.”

The Trappers’ Return is the second version of Fur Traders Descending the Missouri (1845; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), which is generally considered the artist’s finest work in the genre idiom. Both pictures present a dugout canoe moving slowly downstream with an old French trader paddling in the stern and his son amidships with an animal chained to the bow. The arrangement of the figures and the general mood invest them with a sense of timelessness all the more striking for the specificity of the scenes depicted.
Artist George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811-1879
Title
  • The Trappers' Return
Date 1851
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions Unframed: 26 1/4 × 36 1/4 inches (66.7 × 92.1 cm)
Framed: 31 1/4 × 41 1/16 × 2 3/4 inches (79.4 × 104.3 × 7 cm)
Credit Line Gift of Dexter M. Ferry, Jr.
Accession Number 50.138
Department American Art before 1950
On View American W273, Level 2 (see map)
Signed Signed, center right, on canoe: G C BINGHAM |1851
1851, H. Reed.
John J. Herrick (The Castle, Tarryton on the Hudson, New York, USA);
his son, George T. Herrick.
John B. Ingham (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA).
1950, The Old Print Shop (New York, New York, USA).
1950-present, gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
The American Art Union, New York. "Register of Works of Art." Manuscript in the collection of the New-York Historical Society, n. d., no. 2971. [as DUG-OUT]

The American Art Union, New York. "Committee of Management Minutes, May 15, 1851." Manuscript in the collection of the New-York Historical Society, no. 173, 1851. [as DUG-OUT]

Rusk, Fern Helen. George Caleb Bingham, The Missouri Artists. Jefferson City, MO., 1917, pp. 51, 122.

Christ-Janer, Albert. George Caleb Bingham of Missouri: The Story of an Artist. New York,1940, pp. 55, 57.
Richardson, Edgar P. "The Trapper's Return by George Caleb Bingham." Bulletin of the DIA 30, 3/4 (1950-1951): pp. 81-84.

__________________. The Art Quarterly 14, 1 (Spring 1951): pp. 78-83 (ill.).

The French in America. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1951, no. 205.

Hundert Jahre Amerikanische Malerei 1800-1900. American Federation of Arts. Traveling, 1952, no. 6.

Baur, John I. H. American Painting in the 19th Century. New York, 1953, p. 47.

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Mostra di Puttura Americana del XIX Secolo. Exh. cat., la Galleria Nazionale d’arte Moderna. Rome, 1954, p. 26, no. 33.

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Apollo 65, 387 (May 1957): p. 186.

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Bloch, E. Maurice. George Caleb Bingham: The Evolutions of an Artist. Berkeley, 1967, pp. 83-84 (pl. 48).


__________________. George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné. Los Angeles, 1967, p. 86, no. 222.

Cumming, Frederick J., and Charles H. Elam, eds. DIA Illustrated Handbook. Detroit, 1971, p. 141.

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Gilbert, Bil. The Trailblazers. New York, 1973, pp. 66-67.

Constant, Alberta Wilson. Paintbox on the Frontier: The Life and Times of George Caleb Bingham. New York, 1974, p. 119.

Pike, Donald G. "Images of an Era: The Mountain Man." American West 12 (September 1975): p. 38 (ill.).

Christ-Janer, Albert. George Caleb BIngham. New York, 1975, p. 49 (col. pl. 54).

Bloch, E. Maurice. The Drawings of George Caleb Binghma; with a Catalogue Raisonné. Columbia, MO., 1975, pp. 19, 175-177.

Wight, Frederick S. The Potent Image. New York, 1976, p. 240 (ill.).

Heritage and Horizon: American Painting, 1776-1976. Exh. cat., Albright-Knox Gallery. Buffalo, 1976, no. 17 (ill.).

The River: Images of the Mississippi. Exh. cat., The Walker Art Center. Minneapolis, 1976, p. 31, no. 7 (ill.).

Rivard, Nancy J. "American Paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts." Antiques 114 (November 1978): pp. 1044-1055 (col. pl. 5).

Sokol, D.M. Life in Nineteenth Century America. Exh. cat., The Terra Museum of American Art. Evanston, IL, 1981, pp. 17-17, no. 18 (ill.).

The Waters of American: Nineteenth Century American Paintings of Rivers, Streams, Lakes, and Waterfalls. Exh. cat., Historical New Orleans Collection. New Orleans, 1984, p. 58.

Kan, Michael, and William H. Peck. 100 Masterworks from the Detroit Institute of Arts. New York, 1985, pp. 196-197 (ill.).

Bloch, E. Maurice. The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné. Columbia, Mo., 1986, cat. 253, pp. 13, 196-197 (ill.).

American Nineteenth Century Landscape Painting. Exh. cat., National Museum. Stockholm, 1986, p. 54 (fig. 8).

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Beal, Graham W. J. American Beauty: Paintings from the Detroit Institute of Arts 1770-1920. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. London, 2002, no. 23, pp. 33-35. (Repro.).