Thomas Hart Benton
Born: Neosho, Missouri 1889
Died: Kansas City, Missouri 1975
Important realist painter of the regional school, muralist, printmaker, teacher, writer
A member of the famous Missouri political family, Tom Benton grew up near the Ozarks. He left at 17 to study at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1906-07 and in Paris at the Julian Academy 1908-11. Back in New York City, he was a professional painter beginning 1912, but he was unable to sell his painting based on European modernism.
In WWI, Benton was an architectural draftsman for the Navy and in this job was forced into realism. At his first postwar exhibition, some of his new paintings sold.
He taught at the Art Students League from 1926-35. During this period, Benton traveled all over the US, sketching in the industrial centers, the South, the Far West, Texas, and New Mexico.
After 20 years in New York City, Benton left what he termed an intellectually diseased lot of painters to return to Missouri as Director of painting at the Kansas City Art Institute.
He has become famous for painting the Contemporary American mural called tabloid art for the New School of Social Research in New York City. When he painted the 45,000 sq. ft. mural for the Missouri State Capital in 1935-36, he rejected customary heroic figures and instead depicted Boss Prendergast, Jesse James, and Frankie and Johnny.
With Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, Benton realistically portrayed the essence of an American region.
Peggy and Harold Samuels, Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West, 1985, Castle Publishing