Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thomas Hart Benton

Self-portrait, Thomas Hart Benton,
1939, Thomas Hart Benton
What do you do when you're the name bearing grandson of a well-know US senator, expected by your parents to follow the family tradition, and enter politics? The answer is, you become an artist, disappoint the entire family, and go on to become more famous than your grandfather. An unlikely scenario? Yes, probably, but that's exactly what Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton did. Born in 1889, Benton first studied art for a brief time at the Art Institute in Chicago, but his real heart lay in Europe. In 1908, he set sail to seek his fortune, so to speak, in the art capitals of France, England, and Italy where he studied for three years.   

The Arts of the West, 1932,
Thomas Hart Benton
Although influence by Cubism and something called Synchromism (which is a sort of abstraction with primary emphasis on color planes and organization), what Benton brought back from Europe had little to do with these French Avant-Gard movements. His greatest influences were Italian--Michelangelo, Tintoretto, and El Grecco (not Italian, but himself influence strongly by Michelangelo). Upon returning to this country, Benton settled in New York and did some nationally acclaimed work there His growing popularity soon brought him back to his midwestern roots as he began receiving commissions for public works involving murals with historic themes in states such as Indiana, Illinois, and his home state of Missouri.   

Thoma Hart Benton mural,
Springfield, Missouri
The mural was an ideal outlet for the style and grand influences Benton brought back from Europe.  Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and Jose Orozco had found popularity in this country by bringing with them from south of the border the nationalistic themes that struck a responsive chord in depression-ravaged hearts of their northern neighbors. Governments were also in the mood to support public works of art in everything from state capitols to local post offices. But Benton brought to mural painting something different, a new style, new color, new compositional elements, and evolved it into what basically amounted to a new art form, no longer static and stately, but writhing with energy, packed with narrative elements, vibrant colors, and flowing, undulating compositions which guided the eye through complex streams of visual consciousness never before seen on the walls of the Midwest or anywhere else. He died in 1975 at the age of 86, his kinship to his famous grandfather little noted outside his home state. 

No comments:

Post a Comment