Thomas Hart Benton was born on April 15
The wreck of the ole '97 train - l'accident de la vieille '97 - 1943
Thomas Hart Benton, (1889 -1975) born in Neosho, Missouri, was an American painter and muralist. Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, he was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement.
Thomas Hart Benton's paintings are famous for showing ordinary people doing common things. He drew and painted portraits, landscapes, and scenes of people at work in farms, factories, and busy cities. His best-known works are public murals, or scenes on the inside walls of buildings. Benton’s murals are lively records of life in America from pioneer times onward.
In 1904, Benton studied for one year at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1908, wanting to study art in Europe, he moved to Paris. From about 1912 to 1935, he lived and worked in New York City.
In 1924, Benton came back to Missouri to visit his father who was very sick. The visit changed his life. His interests became clearer. He took pride in his Midwestern roots and began painting ordinary Americans not often shown in art. He made drawing trips that took him across America. He visited steel mills, coal mines, and logging camps. He watched workers picking cotton in the South.
Observing everything he could about ordinary American life, Benton became the leader of a movement in American art called regionalism. He based his art on personal observation. Even showing poor American peoples, from rural and urban areas. He called attention to problems that he thought all Americans should know about. His style of painting made common people into heroes. He gave them big bodies with lots of muscles and painted them using deep, rich colors.
Not everyone appreciated Benton's work. Some people thought he was too outspoken about politics. Critics attacked his work for depicting such topics as slavery, the Missouri outlaw Jesse James or the Ku Klux Klan members in full regalia.
Many Americans, however, truly admired Benton’s work and ideas. Various organizations hired him to create public art. One of his most famous murals is A Social History of Missouri. It is in the state capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri.
During World War I, Benton served in the U.S. Navy. He was directed to make drawings and illustrations of shipyard work and life. Benton's art was also used, as propaganda, by the American government. He created a series titled The Years of Peril, which portrayed the threat to American ideals by fascism and Nazism. The prints were widely distributed.
Following the war, Regionalism fell from favor, eclipsed by the rise of Abstract Expressionism. In September of 1935, Benton moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he lived and worked in his studio until his death on January 19, 1975.
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Paintings by Thomas Hart Benton