In 1872, toward the end of his career, George Caleb Bingham painted two portraits, one of Ruth McCarty Allison of Clinton, Mo., and one of her young son, Tom.

In 1872, toward the end of his career, George Caleb Bingham painted two portraits, one of Ruth McCarty Allison of Clinton, Mo., and one of her young son, Tom.

Was there a third? Did Judge Ephraim Allison – husband of Ruth and father of Tom – sit for Bingham as well?

Could be, a Bingham expert said Tuesday when a portrait of Ephraim Allison was unveiled during a presentation at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence.

“This is a family reunion,” said Patricia Moss, the art expert who spoke Tuesday.

She said much has to be done to authenticate the painting, some of it scientific and some of it consisting of connoisseurs comparing styles and fine details. Still, the similarities in style – and even the frames of the three paintings are the same – are a good starting point for what Moss called the “probable Bingham portrait.”

“I think it bears investigation,” she said to applause in a packed meeting room at the library.

The experts have to be painstaking, however.

“Everybody in Missouri who has a 19th century portrait thinks it’s a Bingham,” Moss joked.

Bingham is well known for his portrayal of frontier life (including “Fur Traders Descending the Missouri” and “Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers Through the Cumberland Gap”) as well as the politics of the 19th century (“The County Election”). One of the two originals of “Order No. 11,” depicting strife in Jackson County and elsewhere during the Civil War, is on display at the Truman Library through Sept. 8. Bingham painted it after the war, during the six years he lived in Independence.

“His work reflects the place where we live and who are are,” Moss said.

But Bingham painted portraits, too. A colorful and socially well placed figure like Ephraim Allison would have been a good fit. He was born in North Carolina and made his way to western Missouri and became a dry goods merchant. In the Civil War, he was a Confederate captain, fighting at many of the major battles in Missouri – Lexington, Lone Jack, Wilson’s Creek, Carthage. Years after the war, he was briefly the presiding judge in Henry County. It’s there, in Clinton, where the two paintings – or three? – are believed to have been done.

Allison’s death came in spectacular fashion. In 1905, at age 70, he was filling in for a friend who was a guard at the state penitentiary in Jefferson City. Prisoners escaped, using nitro glycerine to blast their way out. Allison stood his post and was shot in the head by one of the inmates. Gov. Folk delivered his eulogy.

Young Tom died the same year as the painting, 1872. Ruth lived another 25 years after Ephraim’s death – “a life of sunshine and shadow – mainly shadow – but she always had a smile,” Moss said,

The restored paintings of Ruth and Tom are owned by Independence residents Ken and Cindy McClain. The owner of the painting of Ephraim – which needs thousands of dollars worth of restoration work – is remaining anonymous. He stepped forward now because Moss was planning to be in town.

Moss described the world into which Bingham was born in 1811 – 200 years ago last Sunday – as a young America still seized by the Revolutionary War ideals of independence and liberty.

“Character was important. Integrity was important. Civility was important. ... These things are imprinted on him,” she said.

She showed several portraits linked to stories specific to Independence – the wooden railroad from Wayne’s Landing; Mayor John King Stark, accused of Southern sympathies during the Civil War and briefly being locked in his own jail; Henry Wilson, a slave horrified at wartime atrocities and deciding to help, of all people, Quantrill’s raiders.

“How many towns have a history like that?” she said. “It’s a fascinating history.”