Thomas Hart Benton (American, April 15, 1889–January 19, 1975) was a notable muralist in the Regionalist movement. Born in the rural town of Neosho, MO, Benton achieved fame in large cities such as Paris, France and New York, NY. Widely remembered for his images representing the Midwest, Benton attended the Art Institute of Chicago in 1907 after briefly working as a cartoonist. He eventually transferred to the Julian Academy in Paris, where he was influenced by the style of Diego Rivera (Mexican, 1886–1957), a prominent muralist. It was Rivera''s use of bright colors to depict socialism that inspired Benton''s style during his Regionalism years. Benton joined the Navy in 1913 as a draftsman; while there, he sketched scenes from shipyard life. In the 1920s, the artist returned to New York and began teaching at the Art Students League. It was during this time that Benton became involved in politics and worked on the pieces for which he is most famous.

Benton is best known for his association with the American Scene Painting movement of the 1930s, but he was also active in the Social Realism, American Modernism, and Synchromism movements. It was during this time that he painted a number of noteworthy murals, including America Today, an example of Benton''s wavy, cartoonish style. Most of the artist’s work focused on the post-Depression era and the plight of its working class. One of Benton''s most controversial paintings, the Indiana Murals, was a negative representation of the Ku Klux Klan, large corporations, and farmers in society. It was placed on display in Chicago, IL, at the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition. Afterwards, Benton accepted a teaching position in Kansas at the City Art Institute.

The artist’s paintings from his Kansas City years geared more towards capitalism and progress; his subject matter included railroads, cars, and city culture. Although Benton traveled the country extensively, he settled down in Kansas, which is where he remained until his death in 1975. Two years after Benton passed away, his home and studio was designated as the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site; the site is now open for public tours.

Timeline

1889
Born: on April 15th in Neosho, MO
1905–1906
Neosho High School. (First work as an artist for Joplin American as a cartoonist.)
1907
Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, IL
1908–1911
Academie Julien, Paris, France
1918–1919
Draftsman for U.S. Navy
1975
Died on January 19th in Kansas City, MO

Exhibitions

2008
Paradigms and the Unexpected: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Shey Collection, Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, FL
2007
Modernisms, Whitney Museumof Art, New York
2007
Leaving a Mark: The Winston and Ada Eason Collection, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OK
2006
The John and Mary Lou Pacton Collection, Nevada Museum of Art NMA, Reno, NV
2006
A Celebration of New Yorks, Georgie O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, NM
2005
The Modern West: American Landscapes, 1890-1950
2004
Spirit of a Nation, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN
2004
Coming Home, First Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN
2003
Gadgets and Gizmos, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ
2003
Bridging the Border: Shared Themes in Mexican and US Art 1900-1950, Davis Museum and Cultural Center-Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA
2002
The History of American Printmaking, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ
2001
Art for the Masses-Associated American Artist Prints, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA
2001
Past Present Future-Notions of Time in Twentieth-Century Art, Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX
2001
Eye of Modernism, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, NM
2000
Elements of the north American Landscape, Works on Paper from the AMAM, The Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, OH
1999
America at Work 1945, Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY
1926
Exhibition of Portraits of New England Characters.

Literature

1939
A Descriptive Catalogue of the Works of Thomas Hart Benton, by Thomas Craven, published by Associated American Artists.