Benton, Thomas Hart

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Thomas Hart Benton was a leader of the movement in American art known as regionalism. The subject of much of his work is life in the small towns and rural areas of the American Midwest.

Benton was born on April 15, 1889, in Neosho, Missouri, into a politically prominent family. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1906 to 1907 and then went to Paris, where he became familiar with the latest trends in modern art. He returned to the United States in 1912. Gradually he rejected European modernism in favor of a realistic style and distinctly American themes.

After serving in the navy during World War I (1914-18), Benton traveled through the South and Midwest, painting the people and places he saw. Works such as Boomtown (1927), Louisiana Rice Fields (1928), and Cotton Pickers (1932) convey the vitality of the men and women who work the land and populate the towns and cities of America.

Benton used many of these same images in his murals, which he began to paint in the 1930's. Some of the best known are in the New School for Social Research, New York City (1930); the State Capitol, Jefferson City, Missouri (1935); and the Truman Library, Independence, Missouri (1959).

In 1935, Benton moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he lived until his death on January 19, 1975. His autobiography, An Artist in America, was published in 1937.

Reviewed by Kenneth Haltman
New Britain Museum of American Art

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