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.