Benton, Thomas Hart, American painter

Benton, Thomas Hart, 1889–1975, American regionalist painter, b. Neosho, Mo.; grandnephew of Sen. Thomas Hart Benton and son of Rep. Maecenas E. Benton. In 1906 and 1907 he attended the Art Institute of Chicago and at 19 went to Paris, where he remained for three years, studying at the Académie Julian and experimenting with several modernist styles. On his return to the United States, Benton designed movie sets, managed an art gallery, and continued to paint. He rejected European and American modernism and instead gradually adopted a stylized nativist realism, as in the painting July Hay (1943; Metropolitan Mus.). The best-known American muralist of the 1930s and early 40s, he executed murals for the New School of Social Research (now in the Metropolitan Museum collection) and the Whitney Museum, both in New York City; the Missouri statehouse, Jefferson City, Mo.; and the Post Office and Justice department buildings, Washington, D.C. Originally commissioned by Life magazine, he also executed several “movie murals,” e.g., Hollywood (1937–38). Benton is noted for his dramatization of typically American themes. His style is graphic, strong in color, repetitious and insistent in the use of rhythmic line. He taught painting at several colleges and art schools.

See his autobiographical An Artist in America (1937, last rev. ed. 1983) and An American in Art (1969); biography by J. Wolff (2012); K. A. Marling, Tom Benton and His Drawings (1985); R. D. Hurt and M. K. Dains, ed., Thomas Hart Benton (1989); A. B. Bailly, American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood (2015).

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