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American Shooters in the War Era: Art Comparison

Shooting for the Beef

Shooting for the Beef

  • George Caleb Bingham, American, 1811-1879
  • Medium: Oil on Canvas
  • Dates: 1850
  • Credit Line: Dick S. Ramsay Fund
  • Accession Number: 40.342
The Songs of the War

The Songs of the War

  • Winslow Homer, American, 1836-1910
  • Dates: 1861
  • Credit Line: Gift of Harvey Isbitts
  • Accession Number: 1998.105.63

The comparison of these two American artworks, Shooting for the Beef by George Caleb Bingham and The Songs of the War by Winslow Homer, shows similarities between American warriors before and after the Civil War 11 years apart. The art pieces belong to different medium categories but reveal the price attributed to shooting accuracy and precision, a valuable factor during the war. Both pieces show middle-aged men with their rifles and different prizes aligned. Both arts were set during the same era of the Westward Expansion and portrayed how men were committed to being the best to acquire the promised benefits. The close-up images include complete human bodies, with the posture encouraging viewers to connect with the artists’ intentions.

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Shooting for the Beef shows a group of casually dressed men watching as a participant take his shot during competition as they await their turn. The artist displays the group in a circle, all with one intention; to aim the best and win the fat steer on the left. The almost a dozen men seem much focused on the exercise, most probably for the steer behind them, which is the prize. Those who have taken their shots are seen sitting on tree stumps as they watch the rest of the squad aim at the target. The steer watches as the men compete to win him. The shooters’ dogs stay close as their owners take part in the competition, depicting the immense value of the steer to the winner. The men look happy and relaxed, as Bingham intends to display the competitive spirit of these Westerners as they showcase their skills.

Moreover, bright faces mean that these men believe in their abilities and are looking to earn more than the steer. The art, set during the Westward Expansion, connects to the American fighting prowess and spirit, which led to the positive outcomes of the Civil War. They were preparing for war: they are dressed in home clothes and carry out the backyard exercise, where they have cleared vegetation and placed a target next to the woods. From the look at the horizon, it is evident that they chose evenings to practice their shooting skills.

Similarly, Winslow Homer’s wood art, The Songs of the War, portrays happy Americans bearing their rifles. They are singing Glory Hallelujah to celebrate their win after a battle. The song to thank the Almighty means that the soldiers have won their expedition. Similarly, only men are captured in both pieces, showing their tremendous interest in shooting events and in national matters. The man is almost identical in both images, with the main difference being that Bingham’s creation is more straightforward and less crowded. Most of the soldiers are middle-aged men, too, dressed in war attire.

The prizes in Homer’s art are freedom: the American flag symbolizes national benefits, and the man sitting on a beer barrel signifies a celebratory mood. The man sitting on the barrel looks comfortable with the acquisition of the Dixie during the Westward Expansion. Both images are set on similar seasonal backgrounds; the intense sunlight means that the soldiers trained and progressed to war during summer or favorable weather. Additionally, domestic animals are included in both artworks. Shooting for the Beef depicts a steer and dogs, which keep the participants focused, while The Songs of the War shows a man on a horse marching in front of soldiers’ lines during the war, encouraging them to proceed.

In contrast, Homer’s art combines several images of war and uses them to show the aftermath of a win. The Songs of the War is painted in black, unlike Bingham’s Shooting for the Beef, which is multicolored, showing painting choices made by the artists. In Homer’s wood engraving, the soldiers have backpacks to carry their war equipment and personal items such as food and water. The scene is different from Bingham’s shooting competition, where participants are in a more relaxed state, with rifles held causally. The soldiers in war are holding their guns at shooting points, showing their readiness to attack and the seriousness of the context. Hundreds of soldiers can be seen lined up in rows in one image, wearing similar clothes and singing the same song. The uniformity symbolizes similar interests and the cooperative element of war. They are united in one major exercise of war celebration on the vast battlefield.

The background of both arts differs significantly. Bingham’s drawing shows a formal settlement in the middle of a forested zone. On the contrary, Homer’s art shows soldiers in plain-like places, with tents in the background. The foreground and background setting in Shooting for the Beef allows appeals to the viewers and allows them to grasp more details. The single image presents an easy-to-comprehend art, unlike Homer’s engraving, which is dull-colored and combines several pictures making it a little unclear. Even though both arts show participants during a sunny day, from the shadows created on the ground, Bingham’s illustration is more advanced and even shows the sky and sun rays over the horizon.

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Works Cited

Bingham, George. Shooting for the Beef. 1850. Brooklyn Museum. Web.

Homer, Winslow. The Songs of the War. 1861. Brooklyn Museum. Web.

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