Thomas Hart Benton

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A vanguard of the regionalist art movement, Thomas Hart Benton had the uncanny ability of making ordinary people doing common things in his paintings look real and magical. The bold Midwesterner was a pioneer of showcasing, through his murals, the lively records of life in America. Benton’s work was purely based on personal observations of everyday people and their lives. His work showed people in all walks of life in America, from the poor to the urban souls. Through his paintings Benton was trying to showcase the issues which America was facing at those times – he thought it his moral duty to let people know about the dark side of life. In his works, the common man was the hero painted in deep rich colors.

Born in 1889 in Missouri into a wealthy and influential family of politicians, Benton’s father was a lawyer and had been elected as a US Congressman four times. His father wanted him to follow into his footsteps and pursue a career in politics but being the rebel that he was Benton firmly stood by his passion for art. Many historians state that his Italian mother played a large part in supporting his artistic dreams.  Benton went to study painting at the Art Institute of Chicago which was followed by a move to Paris after one year to study at the Academie Julian. Throughout his art studies he was supported financially and emotionally by his mother whom he credited throughout his life as playing an instrumental role in his journey. Proud of his Midwestern roots Benton eventually came back to America and settled in his native Missouri and started painting ordinary Americans. Today many art lovers and experts call Benton the chief recorder and interpreter of the American scene. His works express his deepest feelings about the American lifestyle and its history. Benton also painted images on the concepts of love, family and to the surprise of many, religion as well. From sketches, to massive murals and nudes Benton did it all without holding anything he felt back. Just like Benton’s work showed heroes there were also villains which he painted. Benton’s depictions of villains in his art were in dark colors often seen as rich and powerful objects set against a scene where they are trampling on others. This was Benton’s way of showing what little respect he had for the rich and powerful as they got ahead in life by taking advantage of others.

It comes as no surprise that Benton wasn’t one who stuck to just painting, he was also a sculptor, writer and lecturer. Thomas Hart Benton’s rebellious and outspoken nature was evident as during a time was revolutionary art forms were the in game, Benton instead opted to work on huge murals and risky paintings which reflected everyday American life. It seemed like Benton had put his whole life’s experience into his masterpiece the America Today – a large mural showcasing the language of the street. The painting is basically that of a subway station with a string of people doing normal things like reading a newspaper, holding a coffee, talking and kissing. A typical scene at any subway station but what is unique is the way it’s been painted by Benton – in bright colors with massive linear lines and vibrancy. Today the painting can be found at the MoMA in New York, regarding the painting Benton famously stated that each fragment of it is something he had seen or known during his life.

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