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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

 
 
 
John Sartain, after George Caleb Bingham
American, 1808 - 1897
The County Election
1854
Mezzotint and line engraving with original hand-coloring

Plate: 22 3/16 x 29 7/8 inches; Sheet: 27 x 34 inches

 
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection, Museum purchase funded by Mike Lucas and Lorne Bain in honor of their baby granddaughter Georgia Clair Williams at "One Great Night in November, 2000"

Arts of North America
 
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The County Election features a crowded Missouri street on Election Day, 1846, when artist George Caleb Bingham himself ran for office. Although it was meant to represent the democratic values of American politics, a closer look at the painting reveals not an equal democracy, but an unequal and unstable society.

On the left side of the painting, an African American man who is likely a slave pours an alcoholic drink for a jolly, inebriated man. The slave’s presence contrasts the voting scene on the right hand side, reminding viewers that not all men hold the same rights. Enslaved and free blacks, along with women, did not have the right to vote at this time.

American political parties in the 1800s often advanced a racist agenda disguised in the language of freedom and democracy.

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