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Thomas Hart Benton


Gallery Database:

Thomas Hart Benton (1889- 1975). "Mine at Big Bend,"  1930, ink, water color & pencil on paper, sheet 9 X 12, signed. Matted and framed under  glass, 22 x 25. 


Curator's Comment::

Benton prices are on a long-term tear higher, but we were finally able to acquire something actually touched by the master, after having been bid beaten time after time. "Time" magazine put Thomas Hart Benton on its cover for December 24, 1932, and proclaimed him one of the saviors and new heroes of American art--starting a price spiral. Now, the new installation of Benton's major American mural (done for the New School in the 1920's) at New York's Metropolitan Museum, which is shown in a private room along with a movie on the masterpiece project has added new price thrust. If you are in New York City this now permanent exhibition must not be missed--being the single most important iconic American Art work in the city hands down! Truly stunning! So we are happy that we now can offer an absolutely perfectly drawn "Mine at Big Bend" 1930 piece in ink, pencil and watercolor, which has  doubled every time it's been sold. Finally! Benton leads lithographers with eighty different prints, but our (9 x 12) sketch is unique and signed (lower left). There appears to be slight overall paper fading and  minor notches along the left edge, where the sheet was removed from Benton's sketchbook--otherwise there are no condition issues and provenance is secure. This acquisition represents our realization of an important goal for our gallery, and though we have many more expensive American masterpieces, owning a Benton simply matters.


Benton's drawing of a New Orleans
market brought over $20,000 recently.


Benton in 1958

Thomas Hart Benton was born in Neosho, Missouri on April 15, 1889. But Benton also lived in Paris, and New York City  and later painted regularly in the summer at Martha's Vineyard off Cape Cod. Still he is best known as a founding member of the Regionalist art movement. Benton is known for his paintings that glorified the Midwest, starting with his "Indiana Murals" shown at the 1933 Century of Progress exhibition, and now at Indiana University in Bloomington. Benton was named for a great uncle and early U.S. Senator, and his father, Colonel M.E. Benton, was a Congressman for eight years, so the future regionalist also lived in Washington D.C. He started drawing at age 17, after the family had returned to Missouri, when he took a summer job as cartoonist on The Joplin American. From 1907-1908, he studied with Frederick Oswald at the Art Institute of Chicago and then studied in Paris for three years including briefly at the Academie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens and for a longer period at the Academie Collarossi, where he could work independently. In 1911, Benton went to New York, where he experimented with Impressionism, post-Impressionism, and Synchromism, the last influenced by his friend, Stanton MacDonald-Wright. He also taught at the Art Students League and became a major influence on the style of Jackson Pollock. But increasingly Benton grew to believe that art should express one's surroundings rather than abstract ideas and that the ordinary person most exemplified American life. Many of these ideas were inherited from the politics of his Populist father. Finally Benton's experience as a draftsman in the Navy from 1918-19, sparked his American Scene realist style beginning with his circa 1921 "West Side Express," which led Alvin Johnson to commission the America Today murals (1930-31) for the New School for Social Research in New York City.


After being ostracized by the leftist abstract expressionist New York art community for his pro-America politics (see his two autobiographies, An Artist in America, and An American In Art), Benton moved back to Missouri in 1935. It didn't help that President Harry Truman said that Benton was "the best damned painter in America."  He was then commissioned to paint "A Social History of  Missouri" for the state capitol building. Benton went on to create several more iconic works of art, including "The Year of Peril" and "Lincoln." He established a studio in Kansas City, where he painted for the next forty years until his death at age 85. It was during Benton's participation in a 1934 exhibition with Grant Wood John Steuart Curry at Ferargil Galleries in New York, that critics coined the term "American Regionalism" for Benton's work. But his regionalism incorporated city life as well. Benton was an admitted troll--pugnacious to the point of belligerency, of short stature and shorter temper, especially when under the influence. His America Today mural has his likes and dislikes, ranging from burlesque performer Peggy Reynolds, or friends of the artist, like Max Eastman, editor of the socialist magazine The Masses vs. preacher Billy Sunday. The black construction worker in the “City Building” scene is a composite, as the artist Reginald Marsh, a white man, posed for the body. Benton's miners, drillers, lumberjacks, steelworkers, cotton pickers, farmers, and sharecroppers are men involved with the land, but know that they are governed by the hand of nature. Our "Mine at Big Bend" conveys the same harmony of mutual respect. He was simply an artist with a unique style who loved this land and the people in it.


"Ozark Autumn" brought $5,000,000 in 2015!

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