- Thomas Hart Benton (painter)
bgcolour = #6495ED
name = Thomas Hart Benton
caption = Thomas Hart Benton
birthdate = birth date |1889|4|15|
deathdate = death date and age |1975|1|19|1889|4|15|
nationality = American
influenced by =
Thomas Hart Benton (
April 15, 1889- January 19, 1975) was an American painter and muralist. Along with Grant Woodand John Steuart Curry, he was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement. His fluid, almost sculpted paintings showed everyday scenes of life in the United States. Though his work is perhaps best associated with the Midwest, he created scores of paintings of New York - where he lived for over 20 years, Martha’s Vineyard- where he summered for much of his adult life, the American South and the American West.
Life and work
Benton was born in Neosho,
Missouri, into an influential clan of politicians and powerbrokers. Benton's father Maecenas Bentonwas a lawyer and United States congressman, and his namesake and great-uncle Thomas Hart Benton was one of the first two United States Senators from Missouri.
Benton spent his childhood shuttling between
Washington D.C.and Missouri. Benton rebelled against his grooming for a future political career, preferring to develop his interest in art. As a teenager, he worked as a cartoonist for the "Joplin American" newspaper, in Joplin, Missouri.
In 1907 Benton enrolled at the
Art Institute of Chicago, but left for Paris, Francein 1909 to continue his art education at the Académie Julian. In Paris, Benton met other North American artists such as Diego Riveraand Stanton Macdonald-Wright, an advocate of Synchromism. Wright's influence gave a strong Synchromist leaning to Benton's work.
Benton returned to New York City in 1913 and continued painting. His work as a draftsman in the
United States Navyin 1919 changed his style significantly. His artwork during his navy stint concentrated on realistic sketches and drawings of shipyard work and life—a change of focus that would continue throughout Benton's career.
On return to New York in the early 1920s, Benton declared himself an "enemy of modernism" and began the naturalistic and representational work today known as Regionalism. Benton was active in
leftistpolitics. He expanded the scale of his Regionalist works, culminating in his "America Today" murals at the New School for Social Researchin 1930-31. He was heavily influenced by El Greco.
In 1932 Benton broke through to the mainstream. A relative unknown, he was chosen to produce the murals of
Indianalife that would become that state's contribution to the 1933 Century of ProgressExhibition in Chicago, Illinois. The "Indiana Murals" stirred controversy; Benton painted everyday people but did not sugarcoat the state’s history, and many criticized the work for including Ku Klux Klanmembers in full regalia. The mural panels are currently displayed at Indiana Universityin Bloomington with the majority on display in the "Hall of Murals" at Indiana University Auditorium. Four additional panels are displayed in the former University Theatre which is connected to the Auditorium. The final two panels, including the most controversial panel, with images of the Ku Klux Klan, are located in a lecture classroom at Woodburn Hall.
On December 24, 1934, Benton was featured on the first color cover of "Time" magazine. Benton’s work was featured along with fellow Midwesterners
Grant Woodand John Steuart Curryin an article titled “The U.S. Scene”. The article portrayed the trio as the new heroes of American art and cemented Regionalism as a significant art movement.
In 1935 Benton left the heated artistic debates of New York for Missouri, where Benton had agreed to create a mural for the
Missouri State Capitolin Jefferson City. A "Social History of Missouri" is perhaps Benton’s greatest work. But it, like his previous murals, caused controversy with its focus on subjects like Missouri outlaw Jesse James, slavery, and political boss Tom Pendergast. Benton used his return to Missouri to embrace the Regionalist art movement. He settled in Kansas City, Missouriand accepted a teaching job at the Kansas City Art Institute. Kansas City afforded Benton greater access to the rural America then disappearing. Benton's sympathy was with the working class and the small farmer, unable to gain material advantage despite the Industrial Revolution. His works often show the melancholy, desperation and beauty of small-town life. In the late 1930’s, he created some of his best known work, including the iconic allegorical nude Persephone, which famously hung in Billy Rose’s nightclub, the Diamond Horseshoe. In 1937, he published his critically acclaimed autobiography, "An Artist in America", which was praised by Sinclair Lewis: “Here’s a rare thing, a painter who can write.” During this period, Benton also began to produce signed, limited edition lithographs that were made available to the public at $5.00 each through the Associated American ArtistsGalleries.
Benton as teacher
Benton taught at the
Art Students League of New Yorkfrom 1926 to 1935 and at the Kansas City Art Institutefrom 1935 to 1941. His most famous student, Jackson Pollock, whom he mentored in the Art Students League, would go on to found the Abstract Expressionist movement—wildly different from Benton's own style. Jackson Pollock often said that Benton's traditional teachings gave him something to rebel against. However, art scholars have recognized the Pollock’s organizational principles continued to follow Benton’s teachings even after his move away from realism, with forms composed around a central vertical pole with each form counterbalanced by an equal and opposite form.
Benton's students in New York and Kansas City included many painters who would make significant contributions to American art. Among the dozens of other artists Benton impacted as a teacher were Pollock’s brother
Charles Pollock, Charles Banks Wilson, Frederic James, Lamar Dodd, Reginald Marsh, Robert MacDonald Graham, Charles Green Shaw, William Wind McKim, Margot Peet, Jackson Lee Nesbitt, Roger Medearis, Aaron Pyle, Glenn Gant, Albert Pels, Fuller Potter, Fred Shane, Delmer J. Yoakumand Daniel Celentano. [Under the Influence: The Students of Thomas Hart Benton. Marianne Berardi. The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art. 1993.]
In 1941, Benton was dismissed from the Art Institute after calling the typical
art museum"a graveyard run by a pretty boy with delicate wrists and a swing in his gait" with further disparaging references to, as he claimed, the excessive influence of homosexuals in the art world. [ cite news | date=1941-04-14 | publisher=Time | title=Benton Hates Museums | url=http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,932248,00.html | accessdate=2007-07-29]
During World War II, Benton created a widely distributed series titled The Year of Peril, which brought into focus the threat to American ideals by fascism and Nazism. Following the war, Regionalism fell from favor, eclipsed by the rise of
Abstract Expressionism. [ cite web | url=http://www.nbmaa.org/Online_Exhibitions/Benton/html/Benlife.html | publisher=New Britain Museum of American Art | title=Thomas Hart Benton Biography | accessdate=2007-07-29] Benton remained active for another 30 years, but his work focused less on social commentary and more on creating stylized bucolic images of pre-industrial farmlands. He also painted a number of murals, including "Lincoln" (1953) at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, "Trading At Westport Landing" (1956) at The River Club in Kansas City, "Father Hennepin at Niagara Falls" (1961) for the Power Authority of the State of New York, "Turn of the Century, Joplin" (1972) in Joplin, Missouri, and "Independence and the Opening of The West" at the Harry S. Truman Libraryin Independence, Missouri. His work on the Truman Library mural initiated a friendship with the former U.S. President that lasted for the rest of their lives. Benton died in 1975 at work in his studio, just as he completed his final mural, "The Sources of Country Music" for the Country Music Hall of Famein Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1977, Benton's 2-1/2 story Victorian residence and carriage house studio in Kansas City officially became the
Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site. The site remains virtually unchanged, with clothing, furniture, and paint brushes still in place since Benton's death and is open for guided tours. The site also displays 13 original works of Benton's art. [ [http://travel.nytimes.com/travel/guides/north-america/united-states/missouri/kansas-city/attraction-detail.html?vid=1154654613525 "Kansas City Attractions: Thomas Hart Benton Home", The New York Times] , article excerpted from: "Frommer's USA", 10th Edition, 2007, ISBN 978-0-470-04726-2]
Benton met and married Rita Piacenza, an Italian immigrant, in
1922. They met while Benton was teaching art classes for a neighborhood organization in New York City and she was one of his students. They were married for 53 years until Thomas's death in 1975. Rita passed away ten weeks after her husband. The couple had a son Thomas Piacenza Benton born 1926and a daughter Jessie Benton born 1939.
title= Thomas Hart Benton: an American original
Alfred A. Knopf
first= Thomas Hart
title= An Artist in America
publisher= University of Missouri Press
first= Thomas Hart
title= An American in Art: A Professional and Technical Autobiography
publisher= Univ Pr of Kansas
* [http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19341224,00.html TIME] cover (self-portrait), dated December 24, 1934 - caption reads "Thomas Benton's Thomas Benton"
* [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,711633,00.html TIME] accompanying cover story of December 24, 1934, entitled "U.S. Scene"
* [http://www.nelson-atkins.org/ The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art] , holder of the largest concentration of Benton's works, including his masterpiece "Persephone"
* [http://www.trumanlibrary.org/ Truman Museum and Library]
* [http://www.indiana.edu/~deanfac/benton/ "Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press" in its Contexts] from Indiana University
* [http://artandsocialissues.cmaohio.org/web-content/pages/econ_benton.html Columbus Museum of Art] Web page on Benton's lithograph "Strike" (click on picture for larger version)
* [http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=60945 Thomas Hart Benton and the Indiana Murals]
* [http://www.mostateparks.com/benton.htm Missouri State Parks & Historic Sites: Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site]
* [http://geh.org/ar/strip17/htmlsrc/muray_sum00008.html Photographs of Benton; Benton with his wife and son] by
Nickolas Muray(scroll down)
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