Stories Behind the Portraits: David McClanahan Hickman

After ten years of searching, not long ago I located a “lost” portrait by George Caleb Bingham, Captain David McClanahan Hickman.   John Francis McDermott first noted the existence of the 30 x 25 inch artwork in 1959 in his book, George Caleb Bingham, River Portraitist. McDermott also noted the companion piece of his second wife, Cornelia Ann Bryan (Mrs. David Hickman), and a later Bingham portrait of their daughter Sarah Ann Hickman (Mrs. Archibald Logan Young).(No.106-108)E. Maurice Bloch listed all three in The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné (No. 213, 283, and 284), publishedin 1986. In 1959, a direct descendant owned the trio of paintings, but after her death, they were split two ways, and later split again, each to a different descendant. After 1986, all three portraits seemingly disappeared Only in 2014, after returning again and again to the search, did I break through a genealogical brick wall and find the current owner.

Bloch had obtained a photograph of Cornelia Ann Bryan (Mrs. David Hickman), but the likenesses of her husband and daughter had never been exhibited or reproduced. Without a photograph of Captain David M. Hickman, I had no idea what he looked like.  It is always a thrill to see a Bingham portrait I have only seen in black & white come alive with a color image, so seeing a color image of a painting I’ve never seen at all, is a joy.

The portrait subject, David McClanahan Hickman (1788-1851), was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, on August 10, 1788. He was a first lieutenant in the War of 1812, a sheriff of Bourbon County, and a member of the Kentucky legislature.  In 1818, he married Elizabeth Keller Johnston (1802-1827). By 1823, the Hickmans had moved to Boone County, Missouri.  Before Elizabeth’s death in 1827, at the age of 24, they had three children. A year and a half after the death of his first wife, Hickman married Cornelia Ann Bryan (1810–1882). Hickman fathered five more children.

David Hickman was a founder, in 1829, of both the local boys’ school, Little Bonne Femme Academy and Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church. During the Black Hawk War of 1832, Hickman was a captain. Like many Missourians who served in that conflict, he retained his title. In 1856, he was a founder of the Columbia Female Baptist Academy (now Stephens College.)  From 1838-1840, he served as a Missouri state legislator.((; Warren Dalton and Deborah Thompson, “Hickman family took root in county,” Columbia Daily Tribune, February 15, 2015.))

Captain David M. Hickman was remembered “as useful and wise in his day as any citizen Boone County ever possessed…In his death the county and the State lost one of its most useful, honorable and enterprising citizens. In both his public and private career no man was more highly esteemed. He was prompt and energetic in all his business engagements. With his friends he was kind, sociable and entertaining, whilst his home was ever the abode of a generous and warm-hearted hospitality.”((Ibid.))

George Caleb Bingham’s portrait of Captain David McClanahan Hickman depicts a distinguished gentleman with tightly closed lips, determined chin, and deeply set blue eyes.  The artwork is a quintessential Bingham mid-career portrait. McDermott believed Bingham created the portraits circa 1850. But, Bloch thought the portrait of the daughter was painted in 1849 or 1850, and those of her parents, in 1855 or 1856. At first glance, Captain Hickman has the look of many of the George Caleb Bingham portraits that Bloch attributed to the mid-1850s. But, Mrs. Hickman’s hairstyle indicates McDermott was right. She wore her hair in natural ringlets, the fashion of choice in the latter part of the 1840s. The companion portrait of her husband should have been executed around the same time. In fact, on December 2, 1849, Bingham married Hickman’s niece, Elizabeth Keller Thomas (1828-1876), namesake of Hickman’s first wife. Because he is known to have portrayed his bride’s parents, brother, sister, and grandparents in 1849, it is logical that the artist painted her uncle and aunt, too. A wedding would have called for a large house party that could have lasted for days. How many portraits or appointments for portraits with family and friends could have been made during that time.

At the request of the portrait’s owner, I negotiated a private sale. Since the  portrait was already fully authenticated with impeccable provenance, no conflict of interest existed. Captain David McClanahan Hickman is now in a different home, but one where he is greatly appreciated.

Now to find the portraits of his wife and daughter.  I hope the process does not take another ten years.