February 23, 2017

Thomas Hart Benton and the Celebration of America


Thomas Hart Benton is a painter and muralist at the forefront of the two related early 20th Century American Art movements called Regionalism and Social Realism. He was born in 1889 in Missouri, and died in 1975 in Missouri. Much of his art was created during and in response to the Great Depression.

Thomas Hart Benton, 'Goin' Home', lithograph Sold for $1,440.00

Many of Thomas Hart Bentons works celebrate Americas growth, and at the same time, depict its past. As a young man, Benton traveled America, viewing the nations socioeconomic landscape, depicting the individuals he met, and the recording the beautiful and strange dichotomies he observed.

Thomas Hart Benton, "The Race," Lithograph Sold for $15,000.00

One of Bentons most popular lithographs showing just such a juxtaposition of new and old is of a horse and a train. The reflection of the horse, an ambiguous shape, mirrors the smoke rising from the train in the distance, signifying the changes taking place in Americas country life.

The movement Benton was integral in creating, Regionalism, has been largely eclipsed in Art History by other slightly later abstract American Art movements of the mid 20th century. However, it ultimately was important as a seed to creating and defining a unique American art that was separate and distinct from Europe. The aesthetic embraced Realism and rejected the predominant movement of European Modernist abstraction.

Rejecting subjects of New York and the city he focused on the heartland where he was born, celebrating and elevating the American daily rural or small town existence.

Thomas Hart Benton, Missouri Farmyard, Lithograph, 1936

Currently available for auction is one such lithograph, depicting a Missouri farm with farmers taking part in tasks that would be at home in 19th century America, while a plume of train smoke billows on the horizon. The smoke looms, as though the billows were mountains, above the home.

Traveling the United States he witnessed, depicted, and ultimately preserved through art the drama of every day life for the farmer, the coal miner, or mill worker. And at its most basic, Bentons art is layered with symbols and images of fertility, spring, and harvest. Some of these are quite subtle, and others less so. One of Bentons most famous works is that of Persephone.He depicts a young woman naked in a classical pose, as a lascivious old farmer stares at her. 

Thomas Hart Benton, Slow Train Through Arkansas, Lithograph, 1941 Sold for $4,126.25 Oddly enough, 40 years before Bentons birth, U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton, from Missouri, gave a speech that is credited as being the reason St. Louis was connected by railroad to the Western-reaching railroads in the mid 19th century. Though of no relation, it would seem trains are a legacy for the Benton name. 

Thomas Hart Benton, "West Texas," Lithograph Sold for $2,500.00

Thomas Hart Benton was as much an historian as he was an artist, recording the State of the Union through each stroke of his brush. Should you wish to learn more about this important American artist please look at the links below.

To find Thomas Hart Benton for sale: http://bid.igavelauctions.com/bidding.taf?_function=detail&auction_uid1=4543762

To find one of Thomas Hart Bentons best works, visit the Nelson Atkins Museum and look for Persephone: https://www.sartle.com/artwork/persephone-thomas-hart-benton http://search.nelson-atkins.org/collections/objectview.cfm?Start=5&ret=1&objectid=27583&96ede7d849da5a8d-62B5369E-0BAC-CB4D-84D2F54087D3F05F

To learn more about him watch this video produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art: http://metmuseum.org/metmedia/video/lectures/america-today-symposium-1 To view some of his murals: http://benton.truman.edu/murals.html