Show Preview | Thomas Hart Benton: Legacy

Evergreen, CO
Evergreen Fine Art, May 9-June 6

Thomas Hart Benton, Wyoming Autumn, lithograph, 22 x 28.

Thomas Hart Benton, Wyoming Autumn, lithograph, 22 x 28.

This story was featured in the May 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art May 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!

In the first substantive release of its kind west of the Mississippi, the estate of Thomas Hart Benton [1889-1975] is opening its vaults to sell works from the seminal artist’s personal collection. As a regionalist and genre painter, Benton’s work mixes with the gallery’s living artists, who may have been influenced by the creations of this important 20th-century artist. “It’s an opportunity to show how today’s work will blend with the works of a man who was so well regarded from yesterday,” says Phil Shanley, co-owner of Evergreen Fine Art with his wife, Barbara Hadley. The show and sale opens with a reception on May 9 from 2 to 5 p.m.

Benton’s naturalistic and representational depictions of everyday scenes in the United States placed him at the forefront of the regionalist movement, which he grew through his own work and via the Kansas City Art Institute. The artist is best known for his murals, including AMERICA TODAY, an epic, 10-paneled panorama that now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and THE ARTS OF LIFE IN AMERICA, a series that once hung in the Whitney Museum of American Art and now belongs to the New Britain Museum of American Art. His work also appeared on one of the earliest covers of Time magazine. Although he’s widely associated with the Midwest, where he made his home—Benton’s house and studio in Kansas City is preserved as a Missouri State Park—he also portrayed scenes of the West and South.

Benton’s work was hardly restricted to large-scale works. He sketched prolifically and made drawings wherever he traveled, saving many as studies for murals or individual oils, which he also painted. He also worked quite frequently in lithography. Works in all of these smaller mediums will make up the show at Evergreen. “We’ve had the good fortune to establish a relationship with the trustees of what remains of his estate. We feel very honored and flattered for this opportunity,” says Shanley.

Thomas Hart Benton, Desert Still Life With Skull, oil, 8 x 10.

Thomas Hart Benton, Desert Still Life With Skull, oil, 8 x 10.

Although the final number of works in the exhibition was not available at press time, Shanley and Hadley noted that it would be a “significant display” of a handful of original oils, dozens of drawings, and several lithographs. The pieces depict such subjects as western ranch life, coal-mining scenes, American Indian scenes, and railroad life.

The show includes several original oils, which are quite rare, even among the estate collection, including DESERT STILL LIFE WITH SKULL, in which Benton captures the lonely, perhaps surreal, open stretches of land in the West in his typical flowing style.

The lithographs, which were often created in editions of 250, may circulate more frequently in the marketplace, such as WYOMING AUTUMN, in which a cowboy herds cattle, and MR. PRESIDENT, a portrait of President Harry Truman, another Missourian. However, as Hadley points out, the lithographs in this show were among the artist’s personal collection, in some cases taken directly from the walls of his house. Although they are, in some cases, more than 50 years old, the lithographs are in pristine condition; some appear as though they just came off the press, making the show once again very much of today, in addition to its historical reverence. —Ashley M. Biggers

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Featured in the May 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art May 2015 print issue or digital download Or subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!

All images: ©T.H. Benton and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts/UMB Bank Trustee/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

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