BENTON, Thomas Hart

Creator

BENTON, THOMAS HART
United States , 1889 - 1975
Benton fits the familiar mold of Jack London, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway–the roughneck artist and temperamental genius disguised as a Joe. Named after his great-grandfather, a prominent U.S. senator, Thomas Hart Benton emerged from a political background with a love for America and its back roads. As the son of a popular Missouri congressman, Benton traveled extensively with his father on the campaign trail. In 1907, he left Missouri to study at the Art Institute in Chicago and the Académie Julian in Paris. Returning to the United States in 1911, Benton became an instructor at the Art Students League in New York City. During World War I, he served in the U.S. Navy and was stationed at Norfolk, Virginia where he was directed to make drawings and illustrations of shipyard work. Benton was classified as a "camoufleur", and drew the camouflaged ships that entered Norfolk harbor. This war-related work had an enduring effect on his later style. After his service in the military, Benton travelled throughout the country, and was exposed to a panorama of American experience. He was associated with Regionalism, an artistic movement best known for its emphasis on agrarian cultural ideals. The raw expressionistic and individualistic tone of his work reflected his conscious decision to adopt American subjects and themes in order to create a truly American art that speaks to its people, its history and its culture. Although characterized as a regionalist, Benton’s work often had a social realist bent. In 1932, the relatively unknown artist won a commission to paint the murals of Indiana life planned by the state in the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago. The Indiana Murals stirred controversy; Benton painted everyday people, and included a portrayal of events in the state's history which some people did not want publicized. Critics attacked his work for showing Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members in full regalia. The KKK reached its peak membership in 1925. Thus, Benton, a self-declared “enemy of modernism” depicted reality as it was despite the inevitable backlash. By the time of his death in 1975, Benton had authored a body of work that remains perhaps the most sweeping chronicle of American culture in the 20th century.

Citation

BENTON, THOMAS HART, United States , 1889 - 1975, and Benton fits the familiar mold of Jack London, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway–the roughneck artist and temperamental genius disguised as a Joe. Named after his great-grandfather, a prominent U.S. senator, Thomas Hart Benton emerged from a political background with a love for America and its back roads. As the son of a popular Missouri congressman, Benton traveled extensively with his father on the campaign trail. In 1907, he left Missouri to study at the Art Institute in Chicago and the Académie Julian in Paris. Returning to the United States in 1911, Benton became an instructor at the Art Students League in New York City. During World War I, he served in the U.S. Navy and was stationed at Norfolk, Virginia where he was directed to make drawings and illustrations of shipyard work. Benton was classified as a "camoufleur", and drew the camouflaged ships that entered Norfolk harbor. This war-related work had an enduring effect on his later style. After his service in the military, Benton travelled throughout the country, and was exposed to a panorama of American experience. He was associated with Regionalism, an artistic movement best known for its emphasis on agrarian cultural ideals. The raw expressionistic and individualistic tone of his work reflected his conscious decision to adopt American subjects and themes in order to create a truly American art that speaks to its people, its history and its culture. Although characterized as a regionalist, Benton’s work often had a social realist bent. In 1932, the relatively unknown artist won a commission to paint the murals of Indiana life planned by the state in the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago. The Indiana Murals stirred controversy; Benton painted everyday people, and included a portrayal of events in the state's history which some people did not want publicized. Critics attacked his work for showing Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members in full regalia. The KKK reached its peak membership in 1925. Thus, Benton, a self-declared “enemy of modernism” depicted reality as it was despite the inevitable backlash. By the time of his death in 1975, Benton had authored a body of work that remains perhaps the most sweeping chronicle of American culture in the 20th century., “BENTON, Thomas Hart,” UCSB ADA Museum Omeka, accessed September 25, 2022, http://art-collections.museum.ucsb.edu/items/show/4673.