Thomas Hart Benton Self Portrait


Benton fits the familiar mold of Jack London, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway--the roughneck artist, the temperamental genius disguised as a Joe. But beneath the denim and swagger, there lurks something else: a soul, Benton said, ‘impregnated with a deep sense of the value of life, of the beauty of the basic human emotions and the sadness of the drama of human striving.’ -Verlyn Klinkenborg, Smithsonian, April 1989, p. 100.

Named after his great-grandfather, a prominent U.S. senator, Thomas Hart Benton emerged from a political background with a love for America and its back roads. As the son of a popular Missouri congressman, Benton traveled extensively with his father on the campaign trail.

In 1907, he left Missouri to study at the Art Institute in Chicago and the Académie Julian in Paris. Returning to the United States in 1911, Benton became an instructor at the Art Students League in New York City. Traveling throughout the country, Benton was exposed to a panorama of American experience. Along with John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood, he was associated with Regionalism, an artistic movement best known for its emphasis on agrarian cultural ideals. The raw expressionistic and individualistic tone of his work reflected his conscious decision to adopt American subjects and themes in order to create a truly American art that speaks to its people, its history and its culture. By the time of his death in 1975, Benton had authored a body of work that remains perhaps the most sweeping chronicle of American culture in the 20th century.


Thomas Hart Benton books and resources