Approaching Storm

Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton (04/15/1889-01/19/1975) was born in Neosho, Missouri.  His father was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri under President Cleveland, and served for five terms in the United States Congress.  His formal education was gained in Missouri, Washington, D.C., Illinois and culminated at the Art Institute of Chicago. He moved to Paris in 1908 and took classes at the Academie Julian for three years. Benton moved to New York City in 1911, and struggled to discover his own personal painting style.  He lived there intermittently from 1912 until 1932, where he began to specialize in paintings and murals depicting the ordinary life of people in the Midwest.  In 1917 Benton became a gallery director and art teacher for Chelsea Neighborhood Association in New York.  Within a year, Benton was frustrated by the low-paying job, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy (where he served as a draughtsman in Norfolk, Virginia). After his discharge in 1919, he returned to New York with a bundle of sketches and watercolors of the base.  They were exhibited in the Daniel Galleries (NYC) and, for the first time, Benton's work received considerable attention.  He began to depict more "realistic" subjects in his work in the 1920s, and his works attracted both accolades and controversy.  Benton's  large murals, which incorporated sculptural elements, were criticized by traditionalists who maintained that a mural should be flat.  In 1930 he painted the first large-scale American mural executed in egg-based tempera.  The mural was both praised and criticized, and reproductions were published in magazines all over the world.  After that, Benton was commissioned several times to do murals and to illustrate books and magazines.  His last work, a mural for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, was completed shortly before his death in 1975. In June, 1924, he published his first theoretical paper, and in the late 1920s delivered a series of lectures at Dartmouth College.  He taught at the Kansas City Art Institute and School of Design from 1935 to 1940, where he became the head of the Department of Painting. The pencil drawing in the Asheville Art Museum collection is one of the studies Benton made for the Indiana Mural at the 1933 World's Fair.

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