As St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last month, George Caleb Bingham's Verdict of the People, part of the Saint Louis Art Museum's permanent collection, will travel to Washington D.C. as part of President-elect Donald Trump's inaugural ceremonies on January 20; it will be on display during a luncheon at the National Statuary Hall. The loan was requested by Senator Roy Blunt, who serves as chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
The painting, which hangs in a newly prominent place after the re-organization of the American Galleries by SLAM curator Melissa Wolfe, is part of Bingham's three-part "Election Series," which also includes the paintings Stump Speaking and The County Election. Painted in the mid-19th-century, Verdict of the People depicts a crowd gathered at the steps of a small town Missouri courthouse, reacting—positively and negatively—to the announcement of election results.
In late December, St. Louis artist Ilene Berman and art critic Ivy Cooper filed a Change.org petition addressed to Wolfe and SLAM director Brent Benjamin, asking that the painting be withdrawn from the ceremonies in Washington. "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," the pair wrote. "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 number of signatures is now just shy of the stated goal of 2500, and has been written about in artnet, Hyperallergic, and the New York Times.
Benjamin responded to Berman and Cooper via letter, writing that "As a publicly-funded institution, the Art 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 the painting from the Art Museum’s collection for the Inaugural Luncheon, the Museum was honored to participate in this long-standing tradition." (Read the full text here.) The New York Times reports that Cooper, Berman and Benjamin are scheduled to meet to discuss the matter, though Benjamin notes that the museum's board, which approved the loan, was unlikely to reverse its decision, and that shipping arrangements had already been made. Cooper told the Times that she would be disappointed to see the loan move forward, but was "gratified," but the number of people who had signed the petition.