Monday, March 31, 2014

Benton, Thomas Hart

Poker Night (from A Streetcar Named Desire)
oil and tempera on canvas mounted on panel
35.5 x 47.25 in.
private collectio
-Fair use-

Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) was a notable American muralist in the Regionalist movement. He is perhaps the best known muralist associated with the American Scene Painting movement of the 1930s. He achieved fame in Paris and New York.

He was born into an influential family of politicians. His father was a lawyer and four times elected as U.S. congressman. He was named after his uncle Thomas Hart Benton, one of the first two United States Senators elected from Missouri. Given his father's political career, he spent his childhood shuttling between Washington D.C. and Missouri. His father sent him to Western Military Academy, hoping to shape him for a political career. Growing up in two different cultures, he rebelled against his father's plans.

Benton wanted to develop his interest in art, which his mother supported. As a teenager, he worked as a cartoonist for a local newspaper in Missouri. Then, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago in 1907. He eventually transferred to the Julian Academy in Paris, where he was influenced by the style of Diego Rivera, a prominent Mexican muralist. He joined the Navy in 1913 as a draftsman and in the 1920s, he returned to New York and began teaching at the Art Students League.

Benton's fluid, sculpted figures in his paintings showed everyday people in scenes of life in the United States. Though his work is strongly associated with the Midwest, he lived in New York City for more than 20 years and painted scores of works there; summered for 50 years on Martha's Vineyard off the New England coast; and also painted scenes of the American South and the American West.

He is best known for his association with the American Scene Painting movement, but he was also active in the Social Realism, American Modernism, and Synchromism movements.

After traveling the country extensively, he settled down in Kansas where he remained until his death in 1975. Two years after Benton passed away, his home and studio was designated as the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site; the site is now open for public tours.