Thomas Hart Benton (American 1889 - 1975), "Down the River"

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Thomas Hart Benton (American 1889 - 1975), "Down the River"

4,500.00

lithograph

Framed size is 23 1/4 x 19 1/2 inches

13 x 10 inches

 

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Thomas Hart Benton (American 1889-1975) was born into a powerhouse political Missouri family in 1889. His great uncle, for whom he was named, had been Missouri's first United States Senator and served in Washington for 30 years. His father was a United States attorney for the Western District of Missouri under President Grover Cleveland and served in the United States House of Representatives during the McKinley and Roosevelt administrations. Thomas Hart Benton spent his youth shuffled between Washington, DC and Missouri. Amid pressure from his family to pursue law and politics, he rebelled and pursued a career in art.
Enrolling at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1907, he left to study abroad in Paris in 1909. He continued his art education at the Académie Julian in Paris. While there, he met muralist Diego Rivera and Stanton MacDonald-Wright, an advocate of Synchronism (a movement based on the idea that color and sound are a similar phenomena and that color can be orchestrated the same way as music). Wright had a strong influence on how Benton used color and lines in his work. Benton was also greatly influenced by how lines and forms were used by Spanish painter El Greco (1541-1614). 


Returning to New York in 1913, he continued to paint. Benton joined the U.S. Navy in 1919 becoming a draftsman. His artwork while in the Navy concentrated on realistic sketches and drawings of shipyard work and life - a change of focus that would continue throughout Benton's career.  A self proclaimed "enemy of modernism", he focused on naturalistic and representational work. Benton is best known for creating and being a principle artist in the American scene painting movement known as Regionalism. His works depict scenes of ordinary American folk shown participating purposefully in everyday activities.  He often showed the melancholy, desperation and beauty of small-town life. 


Benton began teaching through the Art Students League in the 1920's.  Two of Benton's most famous students were Jackson Pollock (whom became the founder of the Abstract Expressionism movement) and Roger Medearis, also an abstract expressionist. In 1935, Benton became Director of the City Art Institute and School of Design in Kansas City, Missouri and remained there for the rest of his life. 


As a Regionalist painter, Benton often portrayed inhabitants of rural America participating in popular leisure activities. Down the River depicts a "float trip", a typical recreational activity for Missourians. Preliminary drawings for this scene were made while Benton was on a float trip in the Ozarks. In the foreground, an older man and a boy (Benton's son, T.P. Benton) travel down a river in a "johnboat". The man rows the small boat, while the youth, wearing a large straw hat, fishes. In the distance, two other figures guide their boat down the same winding river.


After the decline of Regionalism, Benton began painting scenes from American history. He also began to concentrate on creating murals in public buildings in the Midwest, such as the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. Benton sought to democratize art. His murals were a vehicle to create art that was intelligible and available to the general public. 


It was said that Thomas Hart Benton "died with a paintbrush in his hand", painting until his death in 1975. His studio, a converted half carriage house, remains in tact and has been preserved as a historic site in Kansas City, Missouri. The old studio still contains cans of paint and paint brushes along with several of his paintings.
Thomas Hart Benton's works can be found in major museums across the United States including The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Hirshhorn Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum which holds the largest collection of Benton's works.